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‘First Love’ is a fun, bizarrely chaotic ride with no brakes

by Daniel O’Connell One needs to look no further than Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike to find a filmography full of varied styles and genres. Since his debut back in 1991, he has made over one hundred movies, each of them totally different from the rest. His work has ranged from samurai films such as 13 Assassins, Spaghetti Western homages like Sukiyaki Western Django, and disturbing horror movies like Ichi the Killer and Audition. He has even directed live-action adaptations of manga, such as JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. Now, Miike brings us his 103rd film, the action-romance-crime-thriller: First Love. The film follows Leo (Masataka Kubota), a successful young boxer with a promising career ahead of him; however, his career is cut short when he finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor. Dejected, he encounters a fortune teller who says he should now use his strength to fight for others. The opportunity to do so arrives when he inadvertently saves the life of Yuri (Sakurako Konishi), a drug-addled prostitute who is in debt with the Yakuza (Japanese mafia). Leo finds himself wrapped up in a plot that involves a shipment of stolen drugs and a gang war between the Yakuza and Chinese gangsters. Leo and Yuri slowly find themselves falling in love with each other as they try to survive the night in Shinjuku.

Stylish and colorful characters

Image from Rotten Tomatoes
One particular strength the movie has is its cast, which is comprised of colorful, quirky characters that are fun to watch. Kubota brings a certain stylishness to the role of Leo, even making simple phrases like, “I’m just a boxer,” come off as if he is disinterested and detached from the world, only being really interested in his boxing career. But, as the night goes on, he eventually finds ways to care for and love Yuri. Konishi, on the other hand, brings a sense of vulnerability to Yuri. The viewer sympathizes with her situation after being introduced to her, and can easily root for her as she tries to survive the night with Leo. Aside from the main characters, the supporting cast is also a lot of fun. This includes Juri (Becky), a small-time criminal and Yuri’s pimp, who goes on a war path after her drug-courier boyfriend Yasu (Takahiro Miura) is killed. It’s interesting to see her descend from a somewhat despicable person to a complete psychopath, hellbent on revenge. However, my favorite character in the film is the Yakuza lieutenant, Kase (Shota Sometani), who plans to double cross his employers and steal a drug shipment. Much like Carl Showalter in Fargo, everything goes wrong for him, and the movie gets a lot of comedic mileage out of his suffering and humiliation.

Brilliant mix of action and comedy with a lot of style

When I walked into First Love, I initially thought it would be the product of crossing True Romance and Good Time with a Yakuza movie. What I got was something along those lines, but with its own unique style. Miike is known for blending different styles and genres into his work, to the point where it’s hard to describe them as a singular or even a combined genre. This shows that the movie is surprisingly very funny, considering it was marketed as a straight-up action-thriller; however, this inclusion of comedy gives it a lot of personality. For example, there’s a scene where Kase brings Juri back to her apartment to kill her. His plans are then foiled when Juri’s roommate, an old lady, walks in and thinks Kase is a robber. Kase immediately panics and knocks the woman out with a well-placed punch. The scene does a complete flip from suspenseful to comedic, which is a little jarring, but this works in its favor, as it makes it all the more hilarious.
Image from The New York Times
Another example of the movie’s bizarre sense of comedy involves Yuri’s hallucinations from drug withdrawal. She keeps envisioning that her abusive father, clad in his underwear, is stalking her like a slasher villain. However, this takes an odd and funny turn when she has a hallucination while listening to music on Leo’s iPod. The hallucination of her father then begins to dance along with the music. It’s just funnily surreal to see something that looks like Miike’s take on the ghosts from It Follows, dancing around to cheerful J-Pop music. The film also boasts some really fantastic and fun action sequences. Miike slowly builds up to them, saving the best for last in the climax. These action scenes range from a gun fight in a hardware store, to a sword fight between Yakuza member Gondo and Chinese gangster One Arm Wang, and to a massive chase scene involving over a dozen police cars. The police chase is the best part, as it starts with a car jumping over the surrounding police officers, and then does something completely unexpected: the scene of the jump is animated in the style of a colorful comic book. It caught me off guard, but I still had a big dumb grin plastered on my face during the whole scene.
Images: Rotten Tomatoes, The New York Times Featured Image: IMDb