It’s an infectious feeling when you can feel someone having fun on the screen…
With the prolific Takashi Miike returning to screens with his now his 103rd feature effort (You heard me right) in First Love we get something that is not only filled with his stylistic and signature beats but perhaps his most universally accessible as well because no matter how dark and gonzo it all gets it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.
First Love is a noir-tinged dive into the world of the Yakuza with the story of a young boxer and a call girl who fall passionately in love while getting entangled in a drug smuggling scheme over the course of one fateful night in downtown Tokyo.
As a filmmaker Miike has gotten himself to a point where you can tell he’s basically just having fun playing in the sandbox that is storytelling and even with its breakneck pacing there’s some genuine innovation going on here which makes for what just might be one of his most engaging features in recent memory.
We honestly can’t remember the last time a Miike film actually looked this flat out stunning as it crawls around the criminal underbelly of Tokyo following our characters. Sure it’s not as rampantly violent other entries in his canon but he still nails so many of the familiar tropes in the gonzo yakuza comedy genre and allows it all to feel familiar yet a little different at the same time. The different part is that it’s all kind of fun!
The script from Maka Nakamura is incredibly strong and well steeped enough in the genre over all to make sure that the little course variations he makes in the story really manage to resonate with the audience. It’s rare in a film like this for us to actually give a genuine damn about the leads but through careful shot selection, edits and some pretty strong performances we get emotionally invested in the characters and their arcs rather than any specific mayhem that is wrought upon our eyeballs.
Both Masataka Kubota as Leo and Sakurako Konishi as Monica are quite strong as the somewhat star crossed and fated lovers and they have great on screen chemistry together while the dive and in and out of the violence that they can’t seem to shake after stumbling into this drug deal. It’s a fun little chase movie where Miike allows the eccentricity of it all to come out on to the screen and it all plays for some genuine (all be it occasionally uncomfortable) laughs throughout it all.
At the end of the day, First Love is a great gateway kind of film not only for anyone looking for action and humour from other countries but also for anyone with a passion for the moving image because seeing the output of someone like a Takashi Miike is just flat out inspiring and to see him have this kind of fun throwing these stories up on screen is infectious enough for any film lover to keep watching anything he throws our way.