Thursday, July 06, 2017

NYAFF ’17: Destruction Babies

The world did Ashihara wrong, so he will make the world pay. He is not too particularly about whom. Anyone handy will do. When the entitled rage of the Occupy movement is combined with the voyeurism of social media-saturated, bad things are sure to happen in Tetsuya Mariko’s Destruction Babies (trailer here), which screens during the 2017 New York Asian Film Festival.

Eighteen-year-old Taira Ashihara and his twelvish-year-old brother Shota drew a sad lot in life. After their mother abandoned them and their father died at an early age, the Brothers Ashihara have lived above the garage where Taira used to work. The owner, Kazuo Kondo, fancies himself their benefactor, but he is really just another exploiter. Finally, the elder brother snaps and lights off on a brawling bender, attacking nearly everyone he comes across.

Taira will take innumerable beatings, but he always dusts himself off and joins the battle again. Two of his favorite foes are the yakuza running a downtown hostess club and group of loutish high school students. Unlike his mates, Yuya Kitahara is initially careful to avoid direct fighting, but when he sees what an internet sensation Kaira has become, he decides to switch sides and facilitate his rampage. Something about Taira’s recklessness appeals to sociopathic misogyny. This is especially true when they kidnap Nana, a hostess at the yakuza club.

The first half of the film is weirdly effective portraying Taira’s impotent rage. He definitely has grievances, he just can’t explain them, per se. Essentially, it is a lot like watching Michael Douglas’s Dfens character from Falling Down, on a nasty meth jag. Sadly, the second half down-shifts into a sadistic abduction thriller, executed in such neutral terms, any possible takeaway remains elusive.

Still, it is not for a lack of trying on Nana Komatsu’s part. She makes her namesake’s big shocking moment almost believable. Likewise, Masaki Suda is profoundly disturbing as Kitahara, an utterly rotten kid, thoroughly desensitized by social media. In contrast, Yûya Yaguira is cold, cruel, and clammy as Taira.

Even at its best, Destruction is a grubby, abrasive film. However, there is something brutally effective about its early primal simplicity. Ironically, by broadening the focus, Mariko and co-screenwriter Kôhei Kiyasu turn it into a rather unsavory morality play. Recommended in a strictly limited context for those with a taste for extreme cinema, Destruction Babies screens this Sunday (7/9) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.