First Love review: a distinct night out at the movies

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From director Takashi Miike comes a distinct, chaotic and entertaining way to spend an evening.

In an age where we hail directors as auteurs after only a couple of films, Takashi Miike very much flips the metaphorical bird at this sentiment. The 59-year-old director has made over 100 theatrical feature films, everything from sickeningly violent yakuza films (Ichi The Killer) to kids’ films (Ninja Kids!!!) with a side of musical (The Happiness Of The Katakuris). First Love tells the story of a sulking boxer Leo, who finds out he has a fatal brain tumour. Leo gets himself involved with the underbelly of the city when he meets Monica, a drug addict and an escort who is being sold to men against her will to pay off her debts to the yakuza. She’s plagued by hallucinations, but Leo takes her under his wing and the title refers to the pair’s gentle relationship. Other plot elements include drug trade, assassins and a really angry widow.

First Love is a Miike film through and through. It’s chaotic, fast-paced fun with plenty of gore and laughs. He balances all the different elements with amicable ease, and First Love is nothing if not endlessly entertaining. It features a generous order of Miike’s signature violence, which is a little cartoonish, but always effective. In an era where directors often try to brutalise their audience and get a physical reaction out of them, Miike’s style feels refreshing and light. The violence doesn’t feel gratuitous because of its almost comical nature, and Miike treats it as spectacle, a way of entertaining rather than to traumatise.

The problem, though, is that the film never quite reaches the highs of Miike’s earlier filmography. It’s nowhere near as extreme as Ichi The Killer, as stylish as Audition or as epic as Blade Of The Immortal. It also feels a little on the long side at 108 minutes, and the narrative starts to lose steam towards the end, even if the violence increases. Regardless, First Love is a fun time for any fan of Takashi Miike or just Japanese crime cinema. It might lack the distinct identity of Audition and One Missed Call (it’s a classic, fight me), but it makes up for it with a bonkers story and each scene topping the previous one in pure madness.

First Love’s story might be a little forgettable in the end, but damn if it isn’t a fun way to spend your evening.

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