Fantastic Fest Review: Takashi Miike's FIRST LOVE Is One Wild Ride
Takashi Miike shows no signs of fatigue. Even with over 100 features under his belt, the prolific Japanese auteur continues to prove that he’s full of life and hasn’t lost his penchant for surprises. His latest feature, First Love, a noir-tinged, genre-blurring Yakuza film, is delightfully feral, frequently great, and everything one could want out of a Takashi Miike joint.
Leo (Masataka Kubota), a young boxer, meets Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a call girl and an addict who becomes involved in a drug-smuggling scheme. Over the course of a long Tokyo night, the two are pursued by a corrupt cop, a yakuza and a female assassin sent by the Chinese triads.
First Love is a film teeming with life and crackling with the kind of anarchic energy that only Takashi Miike can contain. This fast-paced gonzo crime comedy with romantic leanings is highly entertaining and effortlessly enjoyable. It’s filled to the brim with the zany characters and hyper violence we’ve come to expect from the weird and wild auteur, and it serves as a blistering reminder of his powerful punch, unwavering consistency, and seemingly infinite energy.
It takes its time getting revved up, and it has a long-winded cooldown, but everything in between is an absolutely bonkers rollercoaster ride that really keeps you on your toes. You’re never totally sure of where it’s headed and things often ramp up in ways you wouldn’t expect. The film somehow keeps finding new ways to up the ante and twist situations, which give way to some truly surprising and hilariously gratifying moments.
Things begin as a pretty straightforward slice of pulp fiction (a la True Romance), but events quickly become complicated as soon as its characters become entangled. There are a lot of narrative threads going on and characters to juggle, but screenwriter Masa Nakamura does a really fantastic job of keeping this wild goose chase as easy to follow as possible, all while peppering it with a sense of the wonderfully wild and terrifically odd.
Miike’s signature kinetic style perfectly matches the unruly intensity of Nakamura’s script, but he flexes some unusual restraint, which gracefully balances the film’s gory, cartoonish violence with the lighthearted comedy and cutesy romanticism that flutters at its core. There are many moments when the narrative feels like its coming off the rails, but Miike keeps things focused and firmly nailed down — that is, as much as this lively beast will allow.
As First Love pushes toward its climax, it also pushes all of its characters to one location, creating a pressure-cooker environment for its outlandish showdown. There’s some really great moments of comedy gold in its final face-off (like a main narrative thread dissolving into a hilarious McGuffin), but it’s also a bit long-winded and borders on becoming a test of stamina.
Fortunately, it has the sense to never overstay its welcome, and it fizzles to a close at just the right time. Watching its hard-boiled veneer melt into spatterstick comedy that completely liquefies into a surprisingly touching sappy goo (particularly its sweet final image) is quite the sight to behold. And it’s one you definitely should not skip out on.
Recommendation: First Love is a highly entertaining crime film full of delightful twists and turns that is sure to satisfy longtime Miike fans and the uninitiated alike.
Rating: 4 bags of drugs outta 5.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!