Is there a more versatile and prolific director on the planet than Takashi Miike? The Japanese master has lobbed out 100+ films since the early ‘90s and, shockingly, many of them are straight up masterpieces. Don’t believe us? Try Audition (1999), Ichi the Killer (2001), Gozu (2003), Thirteen Assassins (2010) and Blade of the Immortal (2017) for just a sampling of the legend’s work. Put simply: any time there’s a Takashi Miike film to be seen, it’s good news. And his latest effort, First Love, continues the trend of excellence.
First Love weaves a twisted tale featuring multiple characters intersecting in interesting and ironic ways. We’ve got Leo (Masataka Kubota) as an expert boxer who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. There’s Monica (Sakurako Konishi) who is forced into drug addiction and prostitution to pay off her father’s debts. Sneakily ambitious Kase (Shota Sometani) who has a plan to rip off his Yakuza bosses, and corrupt cop Ōtomo (Nao Omori) who decides to help him. Naturally nothing goes to plan for anyone, and Miike delights in throwing these disparate plot strands into a pot and boiling up a heaping helping of violent, fast-paced, blackly comedic magic.
In terms of Miike’s other work, First Love is a much more crowd pleasing affair, eschewing the genuinely shocking gore of Audition or Ichi the Killer for slick, but non-gratuitous blood-letting. Tone-wise, the film feels a bit like a Japanese riff on Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance and a bunch of other ‘90s flicks. Performances are rock solid, with the always reliable Masataka Kubota making a solid lead, and Nao Omori providing a deliciously schlubby turn. However, it’s the recording artist known as Becky who has the most fun as the vengeful Julie, who doesn’t so much chew the scenery as set it alight and snort the ashes.
First Love is Takashi Miike in full-on crowd-pleasing action/thriller mode. Expect twists, turns, surprises, violence, love and Miike’s wry, knowing wit. If a bloke can make films this fun after directing over one hundred of the bloody things, here’s to Takashi knocking out a hundred more.