To the genre film community, very few directors have the longevity of Japanese icon Takashi Miike. Known for seminal yakuza and samurai films plenty, Miike’s latest is a crazy, go-for-broke gang war film that is an all-out blast. Weaving multiple characters and plot lines injected with a lot of unexpected humor, First Love is far a far cry from Audition or Ichi the Killer. It’s more in line with Edgar Wright and Guy Ritchie type films, yet somehow still feels relatively grounded.
The film follows Leo (Masataka Kubota), an up-and-coming boxer who is diagnosed with cancer. While he is reeling from the news, he, by dumb luck, gets thrust into an adrenaline-fueled, running, gunning, and slashing adventure. A fish-out-of-water story, much of the focus is on Leo, but he’s just one of the many, many players in the mix. The rest are characters right out of the comic books or pulpy noir stories.
The film succeeds because of the interplay between all parties whose allegiances are tested and it’s a mad, mad, mad race to the finish. You’ve got Chinese triads, Yakuza, crooked cops, drug dealers, drug addicts and then you get to the supporting characters. It is all too easy to get swept up in the breakneck pace and find yourself gasping for air.
Many films playing at Fantastic Fest this year walk the line between comedy and drama, and as such, the more enjoyable part of the film is the humor…in a Takashi Miike no less. It actually comes across as the most true to life and honest element in this whole zany picture. Rest assured however, with Miike at the helm, this is still a brutal affair. My personal favorite Takashi film is 13 Assassins (check out our throwback review here), and this can go toe-to-toe with it any day of the week.
Beyond the bullets, blades and blunt instruments, the themes hit just as hard. This mad-cap buffet is a trojan horse to, very briefly, touch on the elements like loyalty, aging, and how giving up the old ways to keep up with the times, as well as how the sins of the father can damage a family irreparably.
In the film, Kubota’s Leo makes a very astute observation: we are all fated to die. And that perfectly sums up this picture. No one is safe in a Miike film – you should know that going in – and people die in due time. But as this whole story happens in one night, many find themselves accelerating to untimely deaths. Now it’s not all doom and gloom because the unknown expiration stamp on everyone’s head adds adrenaline-fueled fun making this an easy recommendation.
The humor adds style to the violence which makes First Love enjoyable up down and sideways. Role reversals, unlikely alliances, and memorable characters all conclude in one gripping finale. For close to two hours, Miike stacks dinner plates as high as possible all the while knowing it will all come crashing down. When it does however, the guns and swordplay aplenty are breathtaking. This is one wild ride you won’t want to end.