Takashi Miike, one of the most prolific filmmakers working right now, brings us his 103rd directorial outing ‘First Love’, an adrenaline-filled, violent, rom-com that takes place over one night in Tokyo. A drug-smuggling scheme involving Japanese Yakuza, Police and Chinese Triads goes wrong, and through a twist of fate, sweeps up a young boxer, and a call girl into a chaotic fight for survival.
‘First Love’ functions in a similar vein to ‘True Romance’, if ‘True Romance’ was on acid. Its three-pronged narrative winds itself into one, leaving an array of dead bodies in its wake. Similar to Alabama and Clarence, the protagonists begin in very different worlds. Leo played by Masataka Kubota is a promising, up and coming boxer focused on reaching the top. As opposed to Monica played by Sakurako Konishi, a far more interesting and fleshed out character, who works as a call girl to pay off her family’s debts to the Yakuza. Both work well together as they react to the absurdity of the scenario unfolding around them, as Leo attempts to save a girl he’s just met from the world she’s been sold into.
The wider cast is the reason this film thrives on so many levels. They are dynamic, exaggerated and succeed at bringing this colourful interpretation of Tokyo’s underworld to life. While being given a lot more screen time than the protagonists, much of the film’s action and comedy, which is Miike’s priority here, stems from its ensemble. Some of which include, a corrupt cop, a one-armed gangster by the name of One-Armed Wang and Kase, a useless yakuza who is at the centre of the double-crossings and the humour. All of which are given their moment in the sun in the film’s final act.
At no point does ‘First Love’ take itself too seriously. Miike’s choice of aesthetic lends itself brilliantly to the film’s comical, extreme violence. Lit by the neon lights of Tokyo and backed with an upbeat score to keep the momentum high as the film bounces its way through gags and action set pieces. As for the film’s downfalls, most of them can be justified as necessary casualties in service of a fun piece of genre-fare. The film’s implied romantic element via the title is nothing more than small implication with nothing concrete, although it is just enough to buy into the couple’s role as the protagonists. While the character of Leo isn’t given the same depth as his counterpart Monica. Any depth he is given in the film is wiped away in service of a gag, quickly reminding you this is not the film for deep character examinations.
It does remind you that Takashi Miike is the king of extreme east-Asian cinema. The absurdity of the film makes it feel otherworldly but is brought back down to earth by a narrative that feels familiar. It introduces Sakurako Konishi as an exciting up and coming talent who will soon be a familiar face in Japanese cinema and hopefully beyond. ‘First Love’ is a thrill from beginning to end, wasting no time in sweeping you off your feet and into this, nocturnal, yakuza-filled underworld. It’s a film that never stops enjoying itself and neither should you watching it.
Written by Conor Crooks
STAR RATING –★★★★
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