Movie Review: In Tokyo’s underworld, you can’t kill the “Hydra” without taking off all its heads

When it’s done well, you realize why they call it “fight choreography.”

In the Japanese mystery-thriller “Hydra” (Sorry, Marvel fans.) the brawls mimic the rest of the movie. There’s no talking, rarely even grunts of exertion. Everything happens breathlessly fast, so much so that there’s a do-si-do dance to the life-or-death struggle.

Naohiro Kawamoto choreographed the fights in this minimalist, archetypal underworld collision of cops, mob assassins and vigilantes.

We hear the “whoosh WHOOSH” of arms and legs in fabric, heavy breaths and the muffled “thump” of blows landing. None of this exaggerated post-production “POW, BAM SNAP” stuff here. A knife or a screwdriver pierces flesh with a soft, metallic “shtuck shtuck.”

There’s not much else to focus on in this 77 minute movie, which opens with ten dialogue-free minutes of a cop being killed in a men’s room, the baseball-capped young killer (Satoshi Kibe) making his exit, the “cleaner” (Takashi Nishina) showing up with his aluminum suitcase to dismember the body, take it home, and further whack it to pieces to feed to his tank of carnivorous fish.

Have I sold you on this, yet?

The story takes its allegorical title from a tiny Tokyo pub, where young Rina (Miu) presides, flirtatious Kenta (Tasuku Nagase) is the waiter and stern, silent Takashi (Masanori Mimoto) smokes and broods and cooks back in the kitchen.

But he’s not just “mysterious,” not merely a “quiet old fart.” He remembers customers, sizes up what they need to eat right now (hangovers call for tandoori chicken), cooks and does everything else, it seems, by memory.

And if we know about Japanese cinema semiotics, we can tell he’s a badass just from that familiar unruly mop of hair. Anime to action films, always beware of the dude too busy get a cut or a comb. Takashi can handle himself.

Jiro Kaneko’s script sets up a laughably arch back story that ties Takashi to this job in this place, and an “organization” called “Tokyo Life Group Ltd” that does these “purges.” That’s what they call them.

“We kill people,” the leader (I didn’t catch his name, but I think that’s Tomorowo Taguchi‘s character) intones, in Japanese with English subtitles, to his former go-to-guy, Takashi. “But some people deserve to die.”

Tokyo Life Group has a real jones for corrupt, murderous, date-rapist cops. But the cops might fight back. And if they’re really worried, they’re inclined to hire assassins of their own.

Mimoto (“Alien vs. Ninja”) makes a fine “strong, silent and competent” type. His Takashi doesn’t wear his skills openly, so he’s always getting the drop on the bad guys who come after him or those close to him.

“Who the hell ARE you?” villains inevitably ask, those who have time to utter anything before it’s game on.

The story doesn’t carry “Hydra,” and the characters are so confined to “types” that they’re rarely more than that. But the fight sequences sell it, to those who are on the market for that sort of thing. This B-movie is “So You Think You Can Dance?” for martial arts brawlers, nothing more.

MPA Rating: unrated, violence, sometimes graphic

Cast: Masanori Mimoto, Miu, Takashi Nishiona, Takaya Aoyagi, Tasuko Nagase, Satoshe Kibe and Kazunori Yajima

Credits: Directed by Kensuke Sonomura, script by Jiro Kaneko. A Well Go USA release.

Running time: 1:17

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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