Destruction Babies ディストラクション・ベイビーズ Dir: Tetsuya Mariko (2016)

Destruction Babies   


ディストラクション・ベイビーズ 「Deisutorakushon Beibi-zu

Running Time: 108 mins.

Director:  Tetsuya Mariko

Writer: Tetsuya Mariko, Kohei Kiyasu (Screenplay),

Starring: Yuya Yagira, Masaki Suda, Nana Komatsu, Nijiro Murakami, Sosuke Ikematsu, Denden,

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Writer-director Tetsuya Mariko’s fourth feature film is a realistic take on the idea of anger begetting more anger with nothing to break the cycle as a teen named Taira terrifies Shikoku with a wave of violence that draws a variety of innocents and other outsiders into a twisted game.

It all starts in Mitsuhama with the disappearance of 18-year-old Taira (Yuya Yagira). His brother Shota (Nijiro Murakami) is the last person to witness him leaving their home. With an air of jollity, Taira turns, waves and shouts, “Shota, I’m leaving town!” before getting beaten up by a gang. He’s saved when an older man named Kondo (Denden) steps in. This is the ominous start of Taira’s destructive path as he wanders from Mitsuhama port to the downtown shotengai and yokocho of the city of Matsuyama, picking random fistfights with teens, musicians, thugs, and fully-fledged yakuza.

As Taira aimlessly wanders through Matsuyama, provoking fights with random bystanders, one of the people he picks on is the high schooler Yuya (Masaki Suda) whose story gets added to Taira’s. Handsome as his exterior is, the boy is a craven parasite, a loudmouth with a misogynistic streak he displays when he picks on women and teenage girls. Taira does what Yuya cannot, he externalises his anger and dominates others but he is stronger than Yuya because his targets will fight back. Yuya feeds off this and rallies the bigger boy to beat up more people while filming it on his camera.

It isn’t just the boys who do some fighting because another parallel narrative is added in the shape of a hostess by the name of Nana (Nana Komatsu). Ruthless and cunning, her cute exterior hides a venomous viper who gets her thrills from lying and stealing. She gets dragged into Taira’s street-side scuffles which become even more mindless and indiscriminate and deadly as the group leave behind a trail of blood and mass confusion sparking a media frenzy.

Destruction Babies Still Image Nana Komatsu, Yuya Yagira, Masaki Suda

That’s as far as the narrative really goes.This is a mood piece.  Many of the characters get dragged into and struggle to make sense of the violence and so will the audience as the script avoids any explanations leaving it for viewers to intuit something from the atmosphere and slight narrative details. During a police interview with Shota, we piece together parts of his and Taira’s broken background and neglect is writ large. Being on the bottom run of the social ladder and with no family background leaves the boys exposed to certain aspects of male culture which promotes bravado, machismo, and violence. Taira is an embodiment of these things.

The film takes place at the height of summer, just before the coming of age festival. In this place the Itsukushima Shrine autumn festival is where men carry shrines and battle it out for supremacy. Last year’s festival was marked by a death. It is all the men talk about. Outside of the festival, gangsters roam the streets and hang out at the door of hostess clubs and younger guys imitate them. Most of the male characters get into scraps and the dialogue they use is mostly empty macho boasting of violence and domination. Taira does this and his actions emphasises the nihilism of a story where the toxic atmosphere of anger shrouds everyone. This is an atmospheric piece made potent by the performances which are equal parts anger, hopelessness, malice, and selfishness, as everyone is soaked in ugly emotions, empty vessels who are waiting to be filled up by pain.

Yuya Yagira as Taira in Destruction Babies

Yuya Yagira as Taira is simply terrifying to behold as the teen meting out pain. Audiences will be drawn to his dark features, his twisted grin and arched eyebrows, and his empty eyes which suck the souls of others into them as he silently stalks the streets looking for prey. He is mesmerising to observe, his quiet presence goading others to act before getting off on violence but there’s a depth to him that is intriguing. In one scene, after a particularly laborious fight, he basks in the sun and breathes hard. A close-up of his swollen and cut face segues into a POV shot and the sound of the wind and his breathing is all we here as he looks into the sky. Perhaps he feels alive during these moments of physical agony. It’s interesting to speculate.

Shota, the film’s one source of love hangs on amidst the swirling winds of pain and shame over his brother’s actions but is he strong enough to survive the storm or will he submit? Nijiro Murakami’s performance offers a strong counterpoint to Yuya Yagira as his story offers raw screams of anger filled with tragedy and brings the film pathos, a way to understanding how the cycle of violence keeps going.

Nijiro Murakami as Shota in Destruction Babies

For a lo-fi film with so much explosive fighting, it would be tempting to simply go for a handheld camera but Mariko switches things up multiple times using security camera footage, news recordings, smart phones, and a camera on tripod to capture the locations. The town and countryside are beautiful: the crowded marina with seagulls wheeling in the sky, blocky neon-covered buildings where beautiful hostesses who lure men in, shotengai with housewives doing the weekly shop. It is a fine place if you have money and purpose but for many of the characters, their lives revolve around eking out little pleasures with no big ambitions in their minds. That aimlessness coupled with the small-town atmosphere where there’s not much to do is like an incubator for anarchy for those inclined that way and without family support.

The soundscape matches the dirty and wayward nature of the violence with grunts and growls often being uttered and music full of discordant reverb and distortion, a scuzzy guitar and a chaotic clattering of drums, a fitting accompaniment for an end of the line collapse into exhaustion after much exertion.

The story is left open-ended as Mariko rejects clear-cut moral certainties and pat psychology. All we know is that people are left with pain and Shota’s narration, referring to everything in the past tense, suggesting no answers will ever be found. All the audience knows Taira is still out there, a spectre of violence.

This film is harsh and unrelenting. Perhaps this feeling is created because the film is mostly shot in the same tarmacked urban area where people’s faces are brutally slammed and kicked and punched against asphalt or maybe it is mostly because the directionless main characters we follow are trapped on an aimless road-trip, destination nowhere, with the desire to inflict violence and dominate others being their fuel. What this mood piece does well is create a sullen and threatening presence that refuses to explain itself, much like Taira, the engine of destruction leaving a trail of battered and bruised bodies in his wake.

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