NYAFF XXII Review: MAYHEM GIRLS, Pandemic Pains And Chaos Reigns In Shinichi Fujita’s Superpowered Coming-Of-Age Teen Fable
Director Shinichi Fujita reaches some pretty ambitious heights for his third feature, Mayhem Girls. A coming of age tale set during an all too familiar Covid-19 pandemic, Fujita directs from a script by Erika Nakayama who shares a number of screen credits on both sides of the lens.
The film also reteams Fujita with stunt multihyphenate Yuji Shimomura for several feats of wire-infused sequences to help bolster the film’s fantasy spectacle and allure. You get a tiny sense of to what degree Fujita sets out to achieve this in last year’s campaign for the film ahead of its late 2022 release. The footage quickly reveals a woman in midair dodging cars suddenly whizzing by in the air before crashing and exploding into buildings, which made me all the more curious.
Alas, before all else, we need a setup for this whole shebang and for this, we turn to Mizuho (Mizuki Yoshida), a teenager like many her age who is bored with school and just as dismissive and lackadaisical at times with pandemic restrictions and ineffectual and otherwise oppresive teachers. This spefically goes for her English professor who takes it upon herself to take away Mizuho’s phone, only to end up relinquishing it when her arm suddenly freezes, allowing Mizuho to take it back. The incident later escalates into an accusation of physical assault despite Mizuho never laying a finger on her.
The phone incident is one thing, however. Another is the unsavory village of gossipy and troublemaking classmates she’s forced to deal with, one whose actions ensue with another revealing moment between Mizuho and schoolmate Tamaki (Amane Kamiya), who just happens to be the president and sole member of the photography club. What incurs is a revelation between the two girls, along with two other schoolmates, Akane (Manami Igashira) and Kei (Hina Kikuchi), all confessing to one another a set of powers they’ve each discovered, as well as the skill to share their abilities with one another.
As the film moves along, we are introduced to Yusuke (Taisei Kido), Mizuho’s English tutor from wayback who now works in contactless food delivery after failing to find a good paying job with a fair wage. Between keeping her powers a secret and wanting to be with Yusuke, Mizuho makes a reckless decision that reveals in true form a series of consequences not yet fully visible to her addled teenage mind, and the only people who can stop her are her friends, all forced to push their powers to their respective limits, even as their powers have begun showing signs of disappearing.
What remains to be seen by the time things reach a harrowing climax is whether or not Mizuho is too far gone to be saved; The rosy romantic development between Mizuho and Yusuke builds plentily toward a compelling duality of love interests as we’re faced with one other key character in the film. Contributing to its culmination here is the film’s albeit gradual transition from head-in-the-clouds teen romance to full-scale super-powered action later in the film, with Mizuho taking on frightening form as the anti-heroic anomaly you don’t see coming.
Minus any sweeping 90s nostalgia, Andrew Fleming’s The Craft and Marvel comic lore come to mind as ample illustrations for a film like Mayhem Girls. A touch of queer lovelorn romance – subdued at times – adds to the film’s vitality and overall concurrence, topped with a few small doses of mania with references to the pandemic as points of vaccine ineptitude and mingling indifference over masks. Scenes of flying come across as more janky than preferred, as does the climactic action finale between Mizuho and her friends thanks to rickety green screen and made-for-television CG, although you have to admire Fujita for doing and albeit fantastic job of replicating and conveying energy respective to Akira Toriyama. If the final fight scene between Goku and Piccolo in James Wong’s Dragonball Evolution looked anything like what is seen in Fujita’s film, general collective disproval notwithstanding, it could almost bode as an improvement.
I’m a little surprised as I think Mayhem Girls would suffice even better as an animated series before ever expanding into live action. Conceptually, it’s got loads of substance enough for a slice-of-life sci-fi action/crime fantasy episodic, and I wonder if this was even the case at one point, ideally. Still, I can’t blame him for going all the way on this project. VFX definitely fall short if you’re looking to have your mind blown, but Mayhem Girls does deliver a suitably fun, compelling fantasy drama, lined up with sympathetic characters, terrific and heartfelt performances, and a vision that hints at the kind of visually stunning films that are possible to make after this.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.