Hydra (2019) review [JFFH 2019]

Introduction

With Hydra, Kensuke Sonomura, usually involved in movies as action director (Resident Evil: Vendetta (2017), Bushido Man (2013) or as stunt/action coordinator (Shin-Onna Tachiguishi Retsuden (2007), Bodî jakku (2008)), direct his first feature film.  

Review

Ever since her father disappeared, Rina Kishida (Miu) has been running bar Hydra. Rina functions as bar(wo)man, while natural ladies’ man Kenta Kirita (Tasuke Nagase) waits the tables and Takashi Sato (Masanori Mimoto), an extremely quiet but observant person, prepares food in the kitchen.

One day, a somewhat menacing figure, Masa (Takashu Nishina), appears at the bar Hydra. Masa is a former colleague from the time he worked for Tokyo Life Group Co. Ltd., a secret organization who aims, with precise actions, to keep Japan safe from those who are corrupt. Suddenly, Tokyo Life Group Co. Ltd. and Takashi are targeted by another organization that aims to unleash an unstoppable criminal syndicate upon Japan.

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While the synth-pop music – and the synth-wave styled font – used for the opening gives the narrative a certain 80’s vibe, it would be wrong, based on this stylish intro alone, to expect Sonomura’s narrative to be a homage of the over-the-top action B-movies of the past (General-note 1).  The music, composed by Moku, has more in common with Vangelis’ soundtrack for the Sci-fi noir Blade Runner (1982) than any music used for action-movies of the eighties. Given this musical similarity, the unrushed pace of the story, and the brutality of the action, and, it is more correct to view Sonomura’s debut feature as a dynamic action-noir narrative.

If we consider the pace of the story, we quickly come to conclusion that the unrushed nature of Hydra  is not due to the narrative’s complexity – the narrative is a rather straightforward affair, but due to an emphasis on exploring the Takashi and the relations he has with others. Takashi is revealed as being socially awkward – social interactions are not his thing, but extremely observant in matters like a person’s physical condition as well as how someone’s body-language communicates his intentions. It is, in fact, solely due to his observant nature that problems like violence between drunken customers have been avoided.

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The cinematography of Hydra frames its narrative with a balanced mix between cinematographical movement (e.g. zoom-ins, zoom-outs, truck-shots, … etc.) and fixity, i.e. a static camera (Cine-note 1). Unsurprisingly, the balance between movement and fixity changes in case action-sequences are framed. Action-sequences are framed with more following movement and the movement, in line with the short burst of blistering action-choreography, is also more snappier. Nevertheless, the framing is constructed in such a way that the spectator is always able to enjoy the fast-paced action-moves, the brutality of the violence and the exhilarating and quite intricate martial-arts choreographies (Cine-note 2).

Another aspect worth mentioning is the colouring and lightning design. Narrative spaces, especially interiors, are generally painted with greenish, blueish, and/or orange-ish colours – and red whenever blood flows (Colour-note 1). Colour is, moreover, subtly applied to give the narrative space a certain compositional depth and a noir-ish touch. Due to the compositional quality of the lightning and colour design and – not unimportantly – the softness of the colours, Hydra becomes, at the level of the visuals, a pleasure to watch.

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The musical accompaniment of Hydra is highly effective in infusing, whenever necessary, tension into the framing. Musical accompaniment is, moreover, applied to generate/emphasize the mystery that surrounds Takashi. Surprisingly, the music that accompanies the martial-arts sequences does not aim to heighten the tension of the fight. While the music of Hydra is great, the sound-design is inconsistent. Firstly, the sound-design is not utilized, probably due to technical limitations, to emphasize the brutality of the martial-arts violence (Sound-note 1). And secondly, one can feel or hear that speech has been recorded (Acting-note 1). Luckily, the latter is not a big problem and does not problematize the enjoyment to be had with this noir-ish action narrative.

While Hydra has various flaws – e.g. the sound-design, Kensuke Sonomura’s entertaining action-noir narrative does convince us of the fact that he, if given a bigger budget and better technical equipment, could make cinematographical products far more entertaining and far more gripping. If only Sonomura could find sponsors who will allow his talent as director and action director come to full bloom. We sincerely hope he does.

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Notes

Cine-note 1: Slow-motion is often used as well, at times with great effect.

Cine-note 2: In one sequence, before the final action-sequence, a trembling framing is used.

Colour-note 1: Exteriors, on the contrary, are not ‘rich’ in colours, but are generally marked by a subtle greenish and/or blueish tint.

General-note 1: It is especially the synth-wave styled font that might confuse spectator’s expectations.

Sound-note 1: At some moments in the narrative, the impact of the kicks/punches is successfully underlined by sensible dull sounds. And while we cannot expect this treatment for the whole of the fights, there remains something missing, something missing at the level of the sound-design that would have made the fights even more gripping.

Acting-note 1: The acting-performances are decent but not that strong – a subtle amateurism marks the performances. One could contend that the sound-design helps emphasizing this subtle amateurism, but it is highly unlikely that a better sound-design would have annulled this amateurism.

If we would be asked to choose whose performance is the strongest, we would choose Masanori Mimoto’s.

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