It’s already a greatly deserved point of pride for screenfighting and stunt professional, Kensuke Sonomura, that his feature directorial debut, Hydra, is playing a role in proliferating veritable action cinema talent out of Japan within the festival circuit. A byproduct of the Kurata Action Club once upon a time, and the auspices of Re:Born director Yuji Shimomura’s U’den Flame Works, Sonomura comes into his own with a familiar assassin tale that introduces its own new world – one perhaps ripe with potential in many areas if not just one.
Screenwriter Jiro Kaneko invites audiences to gaze at the taciturn, stoic, unassuming-yet-imposing veneer of one Takashi (Masanori Mimoto), a restaurant cook with an eye for photographic memory and hands made for much more than his intuitive culinary skillset. In the eyes of his employer, Rina (Miu), and co-worker Kenta (Tasuku Nagase), his culinary precision in memorizing ingredients and food preparation are a celebrated feat next to his ability to solve problems amid customer relations.
Takashi’s mystique, however, requires a much more intensive query; His past as an elite, cold-blooded killer for a clandestined organization bent on righting wrongs at the hands of the corrupt is his best kept secret, coupled with the undisclosed details of his unsung connection with Rina’s father. Moreover, his previous world is rife with secrets of its own – such are the kind that will eventually be revealed in due time, but not before a lot of blood gets spilled.
In the wake of a recent spate of targeted murders against corrupt police officials, Takashi’s persistence to start anew and live a peaceful life is tested when his old employer resurfaces to bring him back into the fold. At the same time, a rival bigwig and his own hired assassin enter the fray, plotting to take out Takashi’s former organization, leaving Takashi no choice but to break out the pugilism once more, redeem himself and save the life of a dear friend.
Sonomura’s world in Hydra is created and introduced as such that as the film progresses, we learn the backstory in increments. It’s a dexterous effort with some spotted results, whilst providing ideas on what foundates the world Takashi was cultivated in from his hermitized youth. Thankfully where this effort falls somewhat short, the ultimate focal point of the film on Takashi’s story evens things out, and it certainly benefits the film that Mimoto is an amply-talented actor whose bountiful craft on screen is emboldened by his martial arts and stunt experience.
There’s no question that Takashi is a character we have seen before. Regardless, it’s worth noting that Mimoto still imbues his role with plenty of depth and dimension, making the most of his character in his scenes, especially with lead actress Miu who absolutely emanates the film’s heart and soul as Rina. Nagase’s humble and deferential Kenta is a reformed ex-thug whose irrestible charm for the female customers is a non-factor compared to his feelings for Rina. When it comes to Takashi, the levity among the three notwithstanding, Kenta’s unease is justified only by the seemingly imposing look on Takashi’s face for most of the day; It’s a harmless shortfall in his efforts to regain his humanity and blend in with a social environment other than the confines of his quiet apartment in which the only thing that keeps him company apart from the sound of quaint, dripping water from the tap, is the knife that embodies his distressing memories as the killer he doesn’t want to be.
A combination of synthwave of nightlife shots of Tokyo’s luminous streets echo in the background with Sonomura crafting a simple, straightforward aesthetic in Hydra that easily matches the energy of the core story it executes. Combined with a formula for action that wholly welcomes genre fans who are akin to close quarters-stylized screenfighting and martial arts-tethered cinema, and a satisfyingly grisly and gory touch for the horror crowd, Hydra delivers a ballistic, fuel-injected rush to the senses. The action is fast, furious and fierce, centered on the uses of hands, knives and tactical footwork viable for grappling, brazilian jiu-jitsu and other systems that will surely throw from the frying pan and directly into the fire. Together with the combined efforts of Sonomura and Mimoto, along with Naohiro Kawamoto and Koji Kawamoto, Hydra presents some of the best in action cinema we continue to see out of Japan. Some lighting issues may be a factor here, but it’s a small nitpick rectified by slick camerawork and inclusivity of the characters as they are in motion.
Mimoto is already a relevant figure among westerners in the niche who follow the distributorship of some of the films he’s done in his over-fifteen year history. Coupled with a bona fide debut effort by Sonomura with all the nurturing he deserves in his growing potential, it’s plausible to conclude that with Hydra, these two will be a welcome screen talent for action fans to discover and take notice of, that is, unless they haven’t done so already.
HYDRA will perform this weekend at the seventh Urban Action Showcase in New York City before releasing in Japan later this year.