FIRST LOVE (HATSUKOI) (108 NR)
A young boxer and a call girl get caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme over the course of one night in Tokyo.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Masa Nakamura
Stars: Becky, Sakurako Konishi, Masataka Kubota
Subtitled in English
Although he’s no longer making films as extreme as Visitor Q or Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike could never be accused of mellowing with old age. More than 100 features into his filmography, and he’s still capable of creating wild, hyper violent genre films that contain multiple images no other filmmaker could have possibly conceived, let alone filmed with delirious glee. First Love sees Miike play to his most surreal, violent impulses, but transforms them into an unexpected crowdpleaser – audiences will not be rushing to the nearest sick bag in revulsion, as he’s instead crafted what could be the bloodiest slapstick comedy in the genre’s history.
The set-up is a deceptively complex criminal underworld tale, but this table setting is thankfully over by the 20 minute mark. Boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) is informed that he only has weeks to live after a harsh blow at a boxing match. On the walk home from the neurosurgeon, he sees a woman running and crying for help – this is call girl Monica (played by J-pop star Becky), who is involved in a drug smuggling scheme that Leo unwittingly finds himself involved in when he comes to her help. Over the course of one night, he aims to protect Monica against corrupt cops, the Yakuza, and Chinese triad gangs, while Monica deals with surreal visions of her father chasing her, dressed in only his underpants.
Once the pieces are in place, the tribal associations of characters become an immediate irrelevance. After all, they exist only to cater for relentless mayhem, from decapitations to the recurring sight of a middle aged man in his Y-fronts dancing to the film’s score. It’s one of Miike’s more accessible films, turning his darkest quirks into something more tangible for the casual audience, without toning down the absurd places his story leads to – there are stages where it feels like an odd Japanese cousin to a Coen Brothers thriller, where all the carnage is a result of mounting bad decisions. It’s the sort of film that, had he made it earlier in his career, would be a perfect warm up for anybody prepared to seek out his more nihilistic works, but now, feels like a great reminder as to why we love his brand of insanity in the first place.
– Alistair Ryder, Film Inquiry