First Love, the newest movie from Japanese cult film icon Takashi Miike, is a brutal, stylish, and surprisingly hilarious gangster movie. Over-the-top and messy yet undeniably fun, it takes a while for this movie to come together, but once it does, it ends up being one of the most entertaining action flicks of the year.
The film follows a boxer and a call girl as they get accidentally in a crazy night in Tokyo involving drug smugglers, the Yakuza, and crooked cops. There is a lot going on in this story, hence the reason why the end result feels so kinetic and energetic. While this can be overwhelming at times, particularly towards the beginning in which the audience will still be trying to immerse themselves in this world, the movie is eventually able to find its footing, and to great effect.
During the first hour or so of the film, the frequent shifts between the different storylines is frustrating. As soon as one narrative thread begins to become extremely compelling, the movie cuts to another. However, this is simply building to the extended climax that begins around the one hour mark, and it is this point at which everything starts to come together.
As a whole, the film is tinged with dark humor, and this really helps it become more bearable. The level of violence in the movie is outrageous, yet somehow the humorous way in which it is presented makes it feel even more horrifying. Although Miike frequently toys with surreality, such as a scene in which a decapitated head continues to blink, this works because of the absurd tone.
One of the main weaknesses of the film is the character development, but this can be attributed to the sheer amount of characters that are present. Even though the boxer and call girl are the clear protagonists of the movie, there are other supporting characters with whom the audience is supposed to share their sympathy. Unfortunately, there simply isn’t enough time to build and flesh out these characters in full.
That said, the ensemble does a very good job bringing these characters to life. The main standout is Shôta Sometani, who gives a memorable and frequently hilarious turn as the film’s loose cannon. Thanks to the already unpredictable and wild nature of the movie, Sometani’s performance fits right in with the wackiness.
Stylistically, the film is a bit aggressive, but it is all the better for it. The visuals, from the cinematography to the production design, are all filled with energy and dynamism. This may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this blood-soaked noir-influenced fever dream is sure to appeal to those who like their movies to have a bit of a kick.
First Love struggles to find its footing for a bit, but once it does, it is a brutally entertaining gangster movie. The unique style of director Takashi Miike, along with the wicked sense of humor in Masa Nakamura’s script, allow this to stand out among the crowd of hyper-violent action flicks.
First Love is now playing in theaters.