Miike continues to mainstream.
Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike’s version of Asian extreme cinema is legendary—see 2001’s “Ichi the Killer.” Or, maybe just watch this one, and decide after whether you want to bravely dig deeper into the bloody edge.
While the excessive blood-letting and carnage in Miike’s films can be off-putting, the guy keeps perfecting his craft. Last year, I reviewed his “Blade of the Immortal,” which was called his one-hundredth film—that’s one hundred movies! “First Love” continues his penchant for violence, but it employs a much more palatable approach, and, along with “Blade of the Immortal,” this film might be a good way to dip your toe into all things Miike.
“First Love” follows a young boxer named Leo (Masataka Kubota), who protects a prostitute named Monica (Sakurako Konishi) from various criminal organizations, including the yakuza and Chinese triads. When Leo mysteriously loses a fight by a knock blow that barely taps him, he visits a doctor and is told that not only can he never box again, but he’s dying. Meanwhile, Monica lives a life as an indentured servant, working off a debt as a call girl. She is haunted by visions of her late father and drowns her sadness with drugs. When she becomes unwittingly involved in a drug heist perpetrated by a corrupt cop, she goes on the run. And the hapless, powerful one-puncher Leo decides to take up her cause.
After setting up the players and introducing the two young leads to one another in Miike’s violent version of “meet-cute,” the film ratchets up the action and the pace is dizzying. It’s a race to the end marked by an ever-increasing body count in which death is dealt through use of whatever method is readily available. A word of caution, the exhausting concluding act takes place in big box hardware store with an endless supply of tools at the killer’s disposal.
But Miike is tempered here. Even thought there are many severed limbs and sprays of blood, it’s more comic than ever and the humor makes the graphic violence less visceral and more rawly entertaining even for folks who aren’t likely into the genre.
After countless films, Miike knows how to make this kind of movie sing. And his inventive eye employs a number of techniques including animation, which propels the film forward. “First Love” is an over-the-top action-extravaganza that delivers.