Best Emerging Director Filmmakers of the Present
No two ways about it, be forewarned: Destruction Babies is an extremely violent film. The orphaned Taira (Yuya Yagira) is a ceaseless fount of physical energy, and when he decides to engage with his random victims (often more than one at the same time), the violence comes at the drop of a hat, suddenly, and goes on and on until Taira’s face or fists are bloodied. Hand-to-hand street combat – which takes up an inordinate amount of screen time – is portrayed ultra-realistically. One such encounter leads him to meet Yuya (Masaki Suda), an energetic and somewhat useless kid who hitches his horse to Taira’s runaway wagon, filming the fights as if they were games and uploading them to social media.
Director Tetsuya Mariko based Taira on a barman he met in the small Japanese port town of Mitsuhama (where the film is set) who spent his teenage years engaging in random street fights. Does Taira’s violence stem from a social or psychological sickness? Either way, Yagira gives a fierce performance, and inhabits his character like a man possessed, grinning through the pain. Only one hypothesis might explain the taciturn Taira’s fascination with fighting: "Because it’s fun." And, indeed, Taira takes pleasure in both punching and being punched. But Mariko has more in mind, as in Mitsuhama there’s a yearly traditional shrine festival that is founded on a war between farmers and fisherman that often leads to grave injuries. A brutal and unflinching portrait, Destruction Babies is a fascinating exploration of the place violence within a supposedly peaceful society, and Mariko’s direction immediately establishes him as one of Japan’s foremost independent filmmakers.
By Mark Peranson