“Drugs and pimping are outdated. We’re in the age of “moe”” according to a surprisingly progressive gang boss who takes his son to task for his sexism and insists that even the yakuza has a duty to create a comfortable working environment for women. Yugo Sakamoto’s anarchic deadpan action comedy Baby Assassins (ベイビーわるきゅーれ, Baby Valkyrie) is at heart a slice of life slacker drama about two young women reluctantly trying to make their way towards adulthood only the two young women are also elite assassins recently graduated from high school having been raised as coldblooded killers. 

For whatever reason it’s decided that the shy and socially awkward Mahiro (Saori Izawa) and the manic extrovert Chisato (Akari Takaishi) should become roommates occupying a furnished apartment paid for by their handler while they cover their other expenses through part-time jobs that will help them figure out how to live as “members of society”. The problems they face are perhaps those faced by many in the contemporary era just trying to make it through an unfulfilling side gig without killing anyone only for them the stakes are higher as Chisato discovers on braining a customer and strangling a moody coworker without realising she’s not just fantasising. Mahiro meanwhile finds herself entering a daydream in which she offs the combini manger interviewing her after his boring rant about kids today who think they can earn a living playing video games only to realise the store is staffed by yakuza-esque minions determined to avenge their boss. 

Already very efficient in their killing game, the girls never need to worry about cleaning up after themselves even if Chisato does get a lengthy lecture from the long suffering Mr. Tasaka who as it turns out has a lot of unsolicited advice about how she’s doing her job wrong or at least in ways which are inconvenient to him. Nevertheless while trying to live their normal lives they wind up sucked into gangland intrigue having accidentally offed a major supplier and thereafter engaged in a vendetta with equally crazed yakuza daughter Himari (Mone Akitani) who in a recurring motif proves much more in tune with contemporary gangsterdom than her “sexist” bother Kazuaki (Satoshi Uekiya). 

Gangsterdom has indeed changed, the boss declaring that they need to find a more “female-centric” business which is what brings them to a maid cafe as they declare themselves mystified by “moe”, rapidly becoming extremely irritated by the sickly sweet aesthetic of the cafe which requires them to order food through a series of annoyingly cutesy codewords while young women in ridiculous outfits call them “master” and satisfy their every whim. In some ways the Baby Assassins are a subversion of the kawaii ideal while also to some extent embodying its essential traits in their mix of infinite competence and adorable cluelessness, Chisato forever forgetting what’s she’s done with her weapons while Mahiro constantly mutters to herself under her breath. 

For them, killing is just another job which they mostly enjoy but can also be annoying, just like each other’s company. A mismatched pair, their dynamic strangely recalls Saint Young Men only they’re highly trained assassins trying to perfect a cover identity rather than peaced-out deities engaged in an ethnological study of life on Earth. They have a brief falling out over the same thing most roommates fight about, one feeling the other is not pulling their weight, Chisato irritated by Mahiro’s inability to find a job and Mahiro frustrated that Chisato devotes too much time to her side gig and not enough to their main job as killers for hire. Meanwhile, they’re suddenly plunged into a very adult world of bills and taxes and insurance, their handler promising to handle some of that for them because ironically enough they’re much more afraid of the taxman than they’ve ever been of the police. 

Surreal and filled with deadpan humour not to mention expertly choreographed fight sequences by Hydra’s Kensuke Sonomura, Baby Assassins is a perfectly pitched coming-of-age tale in which two young women attempt to find a place for themselves while contending with a still patriarchal society, eventually discovering a complementary sense of solidarity in their opposing natures as they come together to clean up their own mess while defiantly striking out for their futures as “members of society” whatever that may mean. 

Baby Assassins screened as part of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

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