Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Masa Nakamura
Stars: Becky, Mami Fujioka, Sakurako Konishi
Have you ever gone on iMDB and seen just how prolific director Takashi Miike has been throughout his career? If he and Nick Cage ever hooked up, they could crank out a new movie every 10 minutes. Actually, Cage’s career could probably use a little of Miike’s help right now.
On this side of the ocean, Miike is arguably best-known for Audition and Ichi the Killer, establishing him as not-only prolific, but maybe a little nuts. First Love isn’t quite as bonkers as either, but stylistically similar to the latter. Though it contains plenty of bloody mayhem, particularly during the wild finale, there’s none of the sexual violence that sometimes made Ichi tough to endure.
Leo (Masatake Kubota) is a young boxer who comes to the ‘rescue’ of Monica (Sakurako Konishi) by punching the guy chasing her down the street. However, Monica is actually a drug-addicted prostitute and her pursuer is a crooked cop in-cahoots with local Yakuza gangster Kase (Shota Sometani), who plans to steal a drug shipment from his own bosses. Monica is set-up as their patsy in a ruse that also implicates the Chinese mob (who send a batch of their own assassins to find her). Naturally, the plan goes awry.
That’s the basic plot, which grows increasingly complex – some might say convoluted – as it unfolds. But the story ultimately boils down to a long, delirious chase with a variety of quirky, amusing characters trying to get their hands on the bag o’ drugs. Leo & Monica are just innocent young rubes caught in the melee, which leads to a violent, blood-soaked showdown in a hardware store.
Despite efforts to give them a bit of complexity, the somber young leads don’t resonate much. Considering his abundance of previous Yakuza action thrillers, Miike is obviously far more infatuated with the gangsters. As such, they’re interesting characters, some of whom are exaggerated and highly amusing, like Kase – who keeps inadvertently killing people – and a hitman simply known as One-Armed Wang. While a definite mean-streak runs throughout the film, its healthy sense of humour might even make the violence palatable enough for – dare I say it? – mainstream audiences.
The story seems a bit padded out at times. Bookending the action is a lot mundane character exposition and an unnecessarily protracted epilogue. In-between, however, is a fast, furious ballet of guns, fights, swords, squibs, dismemberments and beheadings. First Love probably isn’t destined to enjoy the cult status of Takashi Miike’s most audacious films, but it’s certainly stylish, exuberant and a lot of ridiculous fun.