Movie Review: In Japan, Schoolgirls Giggle and Moonlight as “Baby Assassins”

 Their voices are high-pitched and giggly, their attention spans short and their uniform skirts shorter.

Who would EVER think these dizzy young things are contract killers, petite Powerpuff Girls with itchy trigger fingers and their whole careers in front of them…once they finish high school?

That’s the zany premise of “Baby Assassins,” a Japanese shoot-em-up/beat-em-up from writer director Yugo Sakamoto (“A Janitor”). It’s a brazenly bouncy bloodbath built around that well known romantic comedy “type,” manic murderous pixie teen girls. OK, it’s an interesting sadistic twist on a popular rom-com type.

Akari Takaishi and Saori Izawa are a “crew” — “Stop calling us a CREW. We don’t work at McDonald’s!” — in the employ of the mysterious Mr. Tasaka.

Chisato (Takaishi) is a bubbly, bubble-gum music loving sociopath, not exactly well-equipped to deal with adult life (“How do we pay the rent again?”), utterly amoral when it comes to pulling the trigger or butting the head. She’s entirely too cute for this line of work.

“How could she be a hitman,” a yakuza wonders (in Japanese with English subtitles)? “I’m starting to get concerned for the hitman industry!”

Mousy, androgynous moptop Mahiro (Izawa) is the quiet one, the tougher one, just as amoral, just as puzzled by the protocols of normal adult life. We meet her as she’s interviewing for a job at a convenience store. She is blowing the interview, a little confused at even the most basic questions. Lucky for her the “interview” is just a way to get close to her mark and kill him.

But damned if she doesn’t have to knife-fight her way past the vengeful staff of that shop who may have yakuza ties, but five of them can’t handle this wisp of a girl.

And don’t go to sleep on her roommate, either. Chatty Chisato is easy to underestimate. But woe unto the yakuza who doesn’t think she won’t pop a cap in him and everybody he knows in a flash.

Of course the young ladies cross a line and mess with the wrong gangs. They’re hunted by a teen peer, daughter of a yakuza, a father and son team and a genuine, bona fide tough guy. Guess how much help their unseen boss provides?

Sakamoto goes “John Wick” deep into this underworld of gangs, families, “crews” and code. The girls get a firm talking to by the team their “insurance” brings in to clean up the blood, bullet casings and bodies. “Please, no more head shots.”

What’s funniest here is the sort of generational angst thrown into this silly, flippant spin on murder-for-hire. The teens don’t know what to do with these tax forms the boss’s functionary gives them, how to pay their bills and the like, and bristle at having to take the sort of crappy “cover” jobs — kewpie-doll voiced greetings for customers, kitty-ears and French maid’s dresses for waitress gigs at restaurants whose “theme” is that old school Japanese patriarchal “deferential to men” girlishness.

One mobster lectures his son that “Yakuza need to create a comfortable working environment for women” because “diversity is the KEY, nowadays.” Does the son listen? No.

Yes, this is the uncertain, insecure and sexist work world young women are wading into these days. Might as well pack a piece and get paid for not taking any Shiitake, ladies.

The epic fights and shoot-outs of “Baby Assassins” are all staged by veteran fight choreographer Kensuke Sonomura, who did a few “Resident Evil” movies. So he’s used to putting the lie to “You fight like a GIRL.”

The “Big Finish,” a raid-brawl in a classic “abandoned warehouse where the yakuza hang out” blood bath, is as over-the-top as you’d hope.

The social commentary is cute, and the picture turns decidedly more interesting when these shallow kids finds themselves not just hunters, but hunted.

But it’s the action that sells “Baby Assassins,” and it’s awesome, from the first shot fired to last punch thrown, with many a head-butt, kick, elbow punch and “shtick shtick shtick” of a knife puncturing flesh in between.

Rating: unrated, oh so violent

Cast: Akari Takaishi, Saori Izawa and Masanori Mimoto 

Credits: Scripted and directed by Yugo Sakamoto. A Well Go USA release.

Running time: 1:35

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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