There are some films whose descriptions pique your interest and under-deliver, some which meet expectations, and some which blow your mind (the diamonds in the rough). The 2021 crime comedy Baby Assassins, written and directed by Yûgo Sakamoto, is the third kind for this reviewer. The premise: two newly-graduated high school girls are highly-skilled assassins whose hiring organization requires them to room together, forcing the odd couple to contend with each other while also settling grudges with local yakuza. With stunt choreography by Kensuke Sonomura of HYDRA brought to life by two talented performers, Akari Takaishi and Saori Izawa, Baby Assassins quickly became a favorite film of that year. Now, with a sequel released and having its Canadian premiere during Fantasia International Film Festival 2023, expectations are high for Sakamoto, Takaishi, and Izawa to provide once more. Though the follow-up, Baby Assassins: 2 Babies, lacks the singular focus of the first due to opening up the world and the new opponents, it is no less hilarious, heartfelt, and action-packed.
After the events of Baby Assassins, roommates and killing team Chisato (Takaishi) and Mahiro (Izawa) are enjoying the fruits of their labor as one of the few full-time assassin teams working within the Assassin Guild. However, a failure to follow-through on a pedestrian contract may put them on suspension until it gets sorted. Seeing this as an opening to rise up the ladder, two subcontractors looking to advance, Yuri (Joey Iwanaga) and Makoto (Tatsuomi Hamada), get word that if something were to happen to Chisato and Mahiro, perhaps these two could take their slot. Distracted by the suspension and what it means for their life-style, Chisato and Mahiro seem like easy targets. But then, they always do to those who underestimate them and none are alive to recant.
There’s always a concern with a follow-up that the creative team will not be able to live up to what was enjoyed in the first. To that, 2 Babies does struggle, if only because it’s, in many ways, so different from the first. The original opens with a great fight sequence highlighting both Mahiro’s skills and her desire to find a worthy fight. In the second, we’re immediately introduced to our new duo on their own assignment, enabling us to see their skills in combat, as well as gain some insight into their interpersonal chemistry. Iwanaga and Hamada are positively perfect together, their performances feeling perfectly natural, convincingly portraying two dudes who’ve known each other since adolescence. Like Chisato and Mahiro, the comedy from them comes through their immaturity, the way in which Yuri supports Makoto in trying to ask out a girl as much as the way they handle a potential job mix-up. Perhaps it’s because they deal in death, both situations are expressed with the same level of emotion. Additionally, Sakamoto expands the cinematic world by also giving Atomu Mizuishi’s cleaner Mr. Tasaka more to do than chastise Chisato, and their handler, Tsubasa Tobinaga’s Mr. Susano, more than conveying exasperation at the way neither Chisato and Mahiro handle their non-wet work contracts/responsibilities. Of course, both Baby Assassins stories find their comedy in the absurdity, that two highly-regarded killers can be taken down more easily by late fees and rule books than bullets. When bullets do fly, though, delight transforms from physical comedy into kinesthetic magic.
According to the official Fantasia 2023 film description, Sonomura did return as the action director, though I cannot confirm as the default language of the film is Japanese and no English translations were provided during the credits. However, the action here is just as strong as in the first, once more communicating as much about the characters as possible while simultaneously delivering jaw-dropping action. The aforementioned action sequence is staged to take advantage of multiple fighters in a small space, requiring the characters to be on top of one another, signaling absolute pandemonium that the two new-to-us killers must navigate. It’s clear that they are proficient at their work by the end, even if they’re obviously not on the same level as our leads due to their reactions and responses in the fight. Later, when Chisato and Mahiro find themselves involved in a situation where the Guild forbids lethal action should they engage, the requirement of benign combat results in some inspired chorography, creating moments to highlight both actors while reminding audiences of the respective character’s skill. Not to give anything away, but just like the first film had its own knockdown-blowout climax, so does this, yet it’s given a clever twist that makes it wholly unique, even as it treads the familiar.
2 Babies does lack a little bit of the forward momentum that the first possesses, the intertwining of the two stories, amateurs and pros, not interconnecting with the same ease and sense of spontaneity as the first film. The other problem being expanding on carry-over characters when they’re less fun than the central four (especially compared to the villains of the first outing), yet, there’s still no denying the same charm that pervaded the first film does so again here. This, of course, all comes down to the incredible chemistry between Takaishi and Izawa, making their characters so much fun to watch whether they’re kicking all kinds of ass or relaxing in their apartment. Credit to the script for finding ways to deepen the relationship between the two characters without diminishing them in the process.
Ultimately, while not as refreshing as the initial outing, 2 Babies succeeds by not trying to do the same thing over again. There is a familiarity to its predecessor in the rhythm of this film, but it’s not the same, nor does it try to copy itself. Instead, rather than suffer sequelitis, it expands itself, stretching so as to reach new and entertaining feats of charming chaos. This is a franchise that has yet to wear out its welcome and whose characters I, once again, can’t wait to get more of.
Screening during Fantasia International Film Festival 2023.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.
This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.