First Love movie review: Takashi Miike infuses heart and humour into a potent cocktail of genre thrills
Takashi Miike's 103rd feature, First Love (Hatsukoi), is a delirious cocktail of all his stylistic flourishes.
castMasataka Kubota, Sakurako Kanishi, Shota Sometani, Becky Rabone, Nao Ohmori, Jun Murakami
Few directors make pulp action movies with the pizzazz of Takashi Miike. And the Japanese filmmaker's 103rd (yes, one-hundred-and-third) feature, First Love (Hatsukoi), is a delirious cocktail of all his stylistic flourishes. There are expertly choreographed sword fights and endless shootouts; there are gangsters of all kinds, each crazier than the last; and most importantly, there is plenty of blood, beheadings and dismembered body parts.
First Love is a grand guignol of sparring, slashing, stabbing and shooting interrupted by muted stretches of character development.
Meet Leo (Masataka Kubota), a talented young boxer who has just been diagnosed with a fatal brain tumour. For the first time in his life, he feels powerless and finds himself confronting the idea of his own mortality. But a chance encounter with Yuri (Sakurako Konishi), a junkie forced by the local mob to prostitute herself, gives Leo a raison d'être. After a drug heist goes wrong, he gets unwittingly dragged into the sleazy world of Yakuzas, Triads and rotten cops.
From a one-armed pump-action shotgun-loving mob assassin to a vengeful femme fatale, this motley crew of caricaturish bad guys are all memorable in their own way — each possessing their own unique combo of eccentric personality, quirk and motivation. It is important to note that character development doesn't always take a backseat to genre requirements.
First Love's story races along with the brutal precision of a samurai sword. As the body count rises, it takes creativity and an unerring sense of pace to ensure every piece of action is vital and engaging so that the audience isn't bored to death. And Miike uses each intricately choreographed action sequence to build towards that bloody crescendo in the climax.
The film works best when Miike injects some surreal comedy into his scenes. Yuri's father sold her to the Yakuza to pay off his debts and she is haunted by the spectre of her father (wearing only a sheet and tighty-whities) in her drug-induced hallucinations. In a sweet moment, Leo shares his earphones to distract her with music and she begins to smile as her phantom father is seen dancing comically to the tune. It is one of the first signs of a blossoming first love.
Kubota and Konishi are both ideally cast as Leo and Yuri, two likeable loners with harrowing backstories. However, it is Shôta Sometani, who impresses with the most memorable performance (as Kase), providing a lot of the film's funnier moments. Balancing gallows humour with slapstick, he exhibits his killing efficiency with deadpan delivery. In an outrageous scene, he begins to rub drugs into each bullet wound during the climactic fight sequence.
First Love has been crafted with the vision of a master auteur and the budget of a grindhouse movie. For a daredevil car stunt, Miike uses a short animated sequence probably because he didn't have the budget to execute it in live-action. So, it is a pleasure to see him still retain his manga spirit and anarchic sensibilities. What he may lack in finesse, Miike always makes up for in pure showmanship.
For genre fans, First Love is comfort food spiced up with good doses of pulp action, a dash of comedy and some tender notes of friendship and romance. It will also make the Miike fan eagerly seek out whatever movie he serves up next.
First Love was screened at Fantastic Fest, America's largest genre film festival. Firstpost will be reviewing select features as part of our remote coverage of the festival.
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