It’s hard to believe that Takashi Miike has already directed three features and one short in the two years since his one-hundredth film (Blade of the Immortal). This makes it understandable that a film-maker with ever diminishing lengths of downtime between projects, would see the quality of his work sometimes slightly wane. First Love, Miike’s 103rd film, demonstrates such a dip when compared with his last feature to be released in the UK (Blade of the Immortal).
Miike’s films have never been consistently brilliant but fascinate through their inoculation of matchless surrealism and droll joie de vivre into concepts that could have otherwise been banal without him. This makes it sad to say that his latest feature is no great stretch of the imagination (for him). Classic Miike components such as; irate gangsters, extreme violence, surreal humour and funky fantasy horror all feature, but these are common traits presented in a context, plot and genre that seem clichéd, so may make fans of his work feel a little underwhelmed. But First Love is still frequently vibrant and fun.
Going by the title (which couldn’t be more misleading), FL sounds like a film you’d think couples to flock on Valentine’s Day (its release date), but (as expected) it is so far removed from a mainstream/ genre love story, so those expecting nothing more will be surprised or maybe even amazed.
First Love tells the tale of Leo (Masataku Kubota), a twenty something boxer with a brain tumour, who gets locked in a Narc skirmish between Chinese mobsters and the Japanese Yakuza after meeting a drug addicted prostitute called Monica (Sakurako Konishi) who as the ability to see ghosts (dancing ones). So far, so Miike, but for a director who has so brilliantly mended genre bending/ reality transcending components into succinct, linear storylines in the past, First Love seems like a bit of a cluttered mush.
The romance is sieved in an ocean of anarchic vehemence, absurdism and classic Miike tomfoolery and there are still countless creative characteristics to make it stand out from the generic. Someone gets their head lopped off within the first few minutes which sifts nicely into a slick boxing/rock montage. This leads to a scene featuring a key criminal character being released from prison. A livid one legged rival goon enters the tale with a corrupt cop sub-plot featuring female assassins, fortune tellers, dog bombs and old ladies (getting punched to death).
First Love loses both focus and balance under the weight of its many facets then totters like an over-enthusiastic drunk towards a dance floor before rising for an anarchic, escalating set-piece/finale. There isn’t time for erudition amongst the muddle so one’s brain and eyes feel mashed in a bad trifle, but there’s enough going on to betroth the noggin before something discombobulating befuddles it. First Love concludes with an epic, bloody gun/sword battle in a hardware store and a mad-cap, drug fuelled, part-cartoon car chase with cocaine cloud explosions and nose-to-groin, drug snorting confusion.
Despite its vivid jiffies, FL seems too speedy, rugged, less unique (for Miike) and a step-back to the style of his Black Society or Dead Or Alive trilogies (not a bad thing). It may be as mad as a sack of crack addled badgers, slung slovenly over the hunchback of a sad and decadent Santa, but First Love is still frequently thrilling fun. Those expecting a Richard Curtis rip off rom-com, may leave dazzled, bemused or maybe even amazed, yet Miike fans may merely be content, but probably not flabbergasted or completely blown away.