First Love

 

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Takashi Miike’s latest action-comedy proves as entertaining and off-the-wall as one would wish to expect.

   
First Love
  

I had anticipated enjoying First Love more than I did, which is a tad disappointing. Takashi Miike has two masterpieces under his belt – the seminal J-horror Audition (1999) and the gruesome crime thriller Ichi the Killer (2001) – and it’s a shame that in twenty years he hasn’t managed to match them in quality. But, a less than perfect Miike is still leagues above the average film in terms of off-the-wall creativity.

 

First Love strikes an odd balance. A zany action-comedy with a dash of romance, it follows a young boxer, thrust into nihilistic depression after he receives a terminal cancer diagnosis, and a young woman forced into prostitution in order to pay off her alcoholic father’s gambling debts. The unlikely pair meet on the streets of Tokyo and embark on a night-time odyssey of survival, learning about each other while simultaneously trying to escape both the yakuza and Chinese triads they accidentally get mixed up with.

 

There are brief flashes of brilliance, certainly some creative presentation choices to support a story that has become standard in the genre. The score is incredibly dynamic, with pulse-pounding synths fused with sleek guitars to provide a modern punk edge, sonically matching the visual aesthetic. But the supporting cast is perhaps the film’s greatest strength. Wacky, out-of-left-field performances keep the tone light and the action unpredictable. However, the central characters do get lost in the shuffle. There are several subplots that converge at the climax, and it does get a bit muddled, while the fun and charismatic characters we’ve grown attached to have rather convenient and unsatisfactory conclusions to their stories. Overall, though, First Love is an entertaining romp not meant to be taken too seriously. There isn’t a ton going on under the hood, but sometimes it’s nice to enjoy a story for the entertainment it offers on the surface.

  

Original title: Hatsukoi.

 

CALEB JOHN CUSHING

 

Cast: Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Sakurako Konishi, Becky, Takahiro Miura, Mami Fujioka, Yen Cheng-kuo, Duan Chun-hao, Maimi Yajima, Masayuki Deai, Jun Murakami, Kenichi Takitoh, Bengal, Sansei Shiomi, Seiyo Uchino.

 

Dir Takashi Miike, Pro Muneyuki Kii, Jeremy Thomas and Misako Saka, Screenplay Masaru Nakamura, Ph Nobuyashu Kita, Ed Akira Kamiya, Music Kôji Endô.

 

OLM-Signature Entertainment.

108 mins. Japan/UK. 2019. Rel: 14 February 2020. Cert. 15.