Marked as the 103rd film for cult Japanese director Takashi Miike, you’d think by now fans of his work would know what to expect from First Love – wrong. Sure, First Love has all the signature trademarks. Despite incredibly dark humour, insane fight sequences and buckets of blood, there’s certainly restraint shown in perhaps his most Western-friendly film to date.
From the title, you’d expect a simple boy meets girl story, but this is actually quite complex. The film takes almost half the movie for it to get where everyone wants it to go — a bloody battle royale inside a hardware shop — but it never loses interest, thanks to the showcase of weird and wacky characters we meet along the way.
The film’s hero is Leo, played by Masataka Kubota (also from Miike’s 13 Assassins), a disheartened boxer who’s just found out he has a brain tumour. He unexpectedly meets and saves Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a drug dealer’s prisoner, and the two get caught up in a gang war between the yakuza and the Chinese mafia.
If that sounds too straight forward, then throw in a vengeful widow wielding no pants and a crowbar, a hallucinating father dancing on a train in his underwear and a one-armed mob boss whose weapon of choice is a pump-action shotgun. Now we’re getting closer to the norm.
While there are as many laughs as bodies stacked up, what’s surprising is Miike’s attention to the complexity of his story, creating full sub-plot arcs, character backstories and the plot devices used to hurry them along. This feels more like a John Woo or Tarantino film than one of his own, without selling out in any way.
However, in true Miike style, it seems he still can’t commit to an ending. After the climactic violence ensues, it drags on just a bit too long without adding anything critical to the story. Still, that’s a very minor criticism.
The soundtrack is also worth acknowledging. The film opens with a didgeridoo-backed montage, and many bass-heavy beats play throughout to complement the high-energy pace of it all.
Whether it’s your first or fiftieth Takashi Miike film, this certainly won’t disappoint.
First Love is screening as part of Melbourne International Film Festival.