Hydra (Japan, 2019)

Following its initial domestic theatrical run in 2019, Well Go USA Entertainment have picked up Hydra to give American audiences a taste of an indie action title from Japan. Running a trim 78 minutes and featuring veteran stunt performers and genre movie actors, it feels like an introduction to its lead actor’s martial arts skills as well as a proof of concept that could lead to more films.

The story concerns a former assassin named Takashi (Masanori Mimoto) who now works as a chef at a restaurant named “Hydra” which is run by an art university student named Rina (model-turned-actress miu). She is the daughter of a former colleague and he has pledged to watch over her and keep a low profile. However, when he is forced to save Rina from an assault, he is dragged back into a world of corrupt cops and criminal syndicates so he has to start fighting again.

Making his directorial debut, Kensuke Sonomura plays to his strengths by using his experience as an action director on titles like Alien vs Ninja (2010), Nowhere Girl (2015) and Destruction Babies (2016) to showcase the talents of Mimoto, a fighter who has cropped up in many other indie actioners like RE:BORN (2017) and the occasional bigger budget feature like Yakuza Apocalypse (2015). Regardless of the crew’s credentials, the film still takes a patience-testing while to get going.

Despite opening with a short and nasty kill scene, the film mostly emphasizes world building and atmospherics. The highlight is definitely the atmosphere as the film is confidently shot. We are taken to the night-time streets of Tokyo (Nakameguro in particular) which are bathed in the neon and lights of the bars and eateries, while the soundscape is ambient synth music. Think John Wick (2014) in terms of the visual aesthetic and the score and you’ve got it. 

The script, from veteran writer Jiro Kaneko (who has done live-action films and even written episodes of the TV anime Cardcaptor Sakura), is as basic as it gets. None of it is new and the characters are archetypes. But what helps sell the story is that the details are delivered by veteran character actors like Yoji Tanaka and Tomorowo Taguchi who are deployed for scenery-chewing effect in a few instances of on-the-nose expositional dialogue and liberally used flashbacks. 

As a character, Takashi undergoes a typical character arc of the taciturn hero who is a hollowed-out hired killer only to find his humanity restored through the people around him. Mimoto is actually a solid thespian who brings enough charisma to his stock role to keep a viewer’s attention but his most compelling moments come when he is fighting. Although it takes over 40 minutes of build-up to get to proper fights, it is worth the wait as Mimoto and his co-combatant deliver a nervy and elegant martial arts match-up that mixes boxing with Taekwondo kicks and some judo flips and holds, all of which the camera captures clearly with swift movements that make it feel like a referee weaving around the fighters to get the details. These fights precede an open ending which is a little anti-climatic but feel as if more is promised so long as a sequel is greenlit and Mimoto’s set of skills is good enough that audiences will probably want to see him in action again.

Hydra is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital On Demand from Well Go USA Entertainment.