Forget your Marvel or Greek mythological associations. This “Hydra” is a Cheers-like Shinjuku hideaway bar-and-grill, except the chef is a reformed assassin. He is still lethally dangerous, as Tokyo’s corrupt cops and shadowy criminal outfits will learn the extremely hard way in director-co-action choreographer Kensuke Sonomura’s Hydra, which releases today on DVD and BluRay.
Rina Kishida is the only one at Hydra, who is comfortable around Takaski Sato, but everyone respects his cooking. Sato was a friend of her father, who has dedicated himself to protecting her ever since Junichira Kishida mysteriously disappeared. Actually, his fate is not so hard to guess, as Sonomura will eventually confirm in a flashback.
Regardless, Sato tried to retire from Tokyo Life Group, the strange conspiratorial vigilante society he used to serve as an on-call assassin, but the group’s old enemies will not let him be. He also takes issue with a regular patron, who happens to be both a crooked senior police official and a date rapist.
With its dueling extralegal secret societies, Hydra probably sounds like a high-concept thriller with a large, sprawling cast of characters, but Sonomura actually takes it in the opposite direction. He gives us a gritty-as-heck, ultra-personal martial arts beatdown, largely set in the back-alleys surrounding the bar.
Sonomura is a talented action and stunt guy, but he also proves to be remarkably skilled as a director, especially when it comes to establishing a street-smart noir vibe. This film broods massively hard. The first ten minutes feature minimal dialogue, but they are totally tense and intriguing.
As Sato, Masanori Mimoto (who worked with Sonomura on the equally scrappy Bushido Man) is almost impossibly steely and his action chops are beyond reproach. He also develops some appealing Obiwan-chemistry with Miu as the somewhat naïve Rina. The villains are not very flamboyant, but co-star-co-action choreographer Naohiro Kawamoto still impresses with his moves and endurance in his exhausting climatic showdown with Sato. Plus, Yoji Tanaka (a.k.a. BoBA) adds grizzled gravity as old man Kishida.
Hydra ends with a relatively open-ended, not-so-conclusive conclusion that obviously anticipates a sequel. That would be just fine with us. The action is satisfyingly grungy and tough, while the Hydra bar turns out to be a surprisingly pleasant place to spend time. Highly recommended for martial arts fans, Hydra releases today (7/20) on DVD and BluRay.