Originally reviewed as part of our Cannes Film Festival coverage in May 2019.
Opening the late night screening of First Love – shown as part of the Directors’ Fortnight strand at Cannes – veteran director Takaski Miike expressed how much the film would be a divergence from the stylistic bloodbaths which had become his directorial signature. “No heads will roll,” he claimed, to stifled laughter and modest, respectful applause. Not all were thrilled with the announcement, Miike’s wink-and-a-nudge delivery hardly registering with the sleep deprived crowd. Part of the reason you dart to a mid-festival Miike flick is a yearning for stimulus – a visual caffeine shot, enough to keep you through to the early hours.
Within five minutes a man had been decapitated, gratuitous amounts of blood had spurted and, indeed, a head had rolled. As would many more, it seemed. Cue now rumbustious applause and appreciative gasps of glee. As it transpires, First Love predominantly follows Leo (Masataka Kubota), a promising young boxer who discovers he has brain cancer. A chance meeting with Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a drug-addicted call girl – who is tormented by hallucinations of her naked, abusive father – leads to a high-speed, violent showdown with a corrupt police officer, a one-armed yakuza, and a deranged femme fatale. Are you keeping up?
It’s a typical Miike feature, saturated with comic book violence, fast-paced editing and a vast multitude of narrative strands which, albeit confusing at first, eventually tie together to form an entertainingly farcical plotline. It’s admirably unhindered by its adherence to Miike’s typical blueprint, though because of this blueprint, nothing truly stands out from the crowd.
With great lead performances, an imaginative (if incredibly messy) script, and Miike’s hand for gratuitous comic violence, First Love is a fun, adrenaline-fueled crime thriller, though it does little to stand out from the rest of the director’s filmography.
CAST: Sakurako Konishi, Masataka Kubota, Jun Murakami, Nao Ohmori
DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike
WRITER: Masa Nakamura
SYNOPSIS: A young boxer and a call girl get caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme over the course of one night in Tokyo.