Review for Destruction Babies
Reviewing titles for this site can be a little hit and miss at times, and to protect my sanity, I am understandably cautious and selective about the titles I review. I tend to read up about them, see if they’ll be something that would interest me, be a title that I could do justice with a review. That has never been the case with Third Window Films, who I trust implicitly. If they solicit a title, I will request it for review, simply down to the quality of the films that they release in the UK. Even if I do not like a film, I will be challenged by it, it will provoke thought. It might get me annoyed, it might get me angry, it might fall flat completely, but I will have something to say about it. The titles that Third Window Films put out have a reason to exist, and they will find an audience. That much I can recognise. But the law of averages suggests that there will eventually come a film that won’t click with me at all. It might just have happened with Destruction Babies.
The last time Shota saw his brother Taira, he was being pummelled by a gang of thugs. The fight was broken up, but Taira just walked away from his life, looking for a fight, any fight. Winning or losing doesn’t seem to matter to him, indeed, he keeps picking fights with the biggest fish in town, with an unhinged attitude that gets the attention of one his early victims, a high school boy named Yuya who decides he wants to be part of the ‘big show’. As time passes, what started off as a series of random punch ups grows gradually more sinister.
Destruction Babies gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Japanese with optional English subtitles. The image gets a pixel perfect transfer, naturally since it’s a digitally shot film. It’s clear and sharp, with good detail levels in daylight scenes, but it loses contrast and shadow delineation in darker scenes. The audio is pretty much a front focussed affair, with the surrounds unchallenged by the sound design. The subtitles are timed accurately and are free of typos.
The disc boots quickly to an animated menu. On the disc, you’ll find the trailer (1:50 1080p), a Making Of with behind the scenes footage and interviews (35:24 720p), and the Stage Greetings, a talk event at the Shinjuku Theatre which lasts 27:01 720p.
I don’t normally conflate entertainment with the real world, but in the last week of March 2017, when we are once again trying to fathom the mindset behind a random act of violence, of terror, there’s no doubt that I’ll watch Destruction Babies with the events at Westminster recently at the forefront of my mind. What makes a seemingly ordinary person just flip, and go on a violent and protracted rampage? How does society respond to that? Destruction Babies has no answers to those questions, maybe it was never meant to, but the state of the world being what it is, it’s inevitable that I ask the questions. Maybe I’m being unfair on the film, but it just didn’t speak to me. I could draw nothing of intellectual value from it, and neither was I entertained. It’s either the wrong film at the wrong time, or it’s just not a good film.
It is the tale of one man’s rampage, and the effect it has on his local community. Taira just goes off on one after being waylaid by a gang, and he’s subsequently just picking fights with whoever he finds, working his way up the local food chain, from random attacks on citizens to picking fights with local yakuza, and it quickly becomes clear that he wants to feel as much pain as he inflicts, although infuriatingly, the film never reveals why. The fights are all rather poorly choreographed, with the cliché of people so desperate to get a punch in that they fall over themselves in the process, never connecting. The fights are all of the ‘fists to the face’ kind, with nothing but superficial lacerations to the main character, who after being put down, always gets up for more. It isn’t ten minutes before I’m swearing at the screen for someone to just break his arms.
Around the halfway point, Taira picks up a groupie in the form of the misogynistic high school kid, Yuya, who wants to create a media experience, a la Natural Born Killers. He’s the character that is most relatable in the film, a powerless cheerleader, who always stands at the outskirts, yelling advice to his friends that gets their hands dirty, and claiming innocence when he gets in trouble. He hangs with the bullies to look big, and avoid being bullied in turn. Only when he starts hanging with the biggest bully of them all, Taira, he lets power go to his head, and heads straight for a fall.
I just don’t know what Destruction Babies is trying to convey. If it’s telling us that random acts of violence can truly be without reason or motivation, that it isn’t worth trying to comprehend, the real world delivers that statement in more than enough clarity. I don’t go looking for entertainment merely to repeat that sentiment. For this film then to have meaning, it needs to imbue its violence with humour, with a satirical edge, and other than a brief flirtation with social media as a means of spreading news (unfortunately impossible to translate in the subtitle stream), this film fails in that regard as well. As a character study in a bunch of rather disreputable and unlikeable characters, Destruction Babies is somewhat more successful, and I suppose you could see it as something of a disaster movie. Most disaster movies have an unstoppable force of nature, or manmade destruction offering adversity to a bunch of characters, and the story comes together in how they respond. If Taira is the force of nature in this film, then it’s in his effect on the people around him that this film might work best. But I have to admit that I’m grasping at straws at this point.
For the first time that I can remember, I don’t see the point in a feature release from Third Window Films. Maybe it’s just me, but when it comes to this sort of story, I’d much rather watch the aforementioned Natural Born Killers, or Butterfly Kiss, or Falling Down.