Takeshi Miike has a legacy of cinematic surprise and of pushing audience buttons. Even if not always plausible, Miike’s work is stirring and vivid and he has kept us talking with “Gozu,” “Zebraman” and the notoriously pulpy and violent “Ichi the Killer.”
In his latest “First Love” we are in the realm of film noir. There is Leo, a young boxer (Matasaka Kubota); a vulnerable girl, Yuri (the Japanese TV celebrity Becky); and some missing cocaine. If it sounds somewhat pedestrian for a gangster film, it is, but there is enough action and twists to keep one watching. Kubota is a passive Everyman who has recently been given terrible medical news; he is terminal. He wanders the streets.
Yuri has recently escaped from a sadistic drug dealer. She hallucinates that she is being leered at by her abusive Dad, an odd man in white underwear with a sheet over him. Yuri cringes in absolute terror. Leo sees a policeman in place of the frightful dad and knocks him cold, thinking he has saved Yuri’s life.
This sets in motion a whirling chase involving the missing narcotic packets, gangsters with anger issues and a robotic one armed man who yearns for revenge.
Severed heads roll aplenty here. The director seems to have a fetish for rolling organs. The Yakuza gangsters are bumbling and somewhat comical. The film portrays the absurdity of anger and control quite well. The combat does get repetitive showing little beyond blood and dismemberment.
The best of “First Love” is Kubota as an outwardly non-descript young man who is in actuality a closet romantic. A girl’s impassioned stare and a gun hold equal mystery.
The story echoes early Tarantino a bit too much (with its animated portion) and it is not as anarchistic or as exciting as Miike’s previous work. Still, the director has his cult and they will no doubt appear for this one.
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