Even before the opening title comes up on Takashi Miike’s latest film, First Love, the film has already featured an assassination by decapitation, a boxer unexpectedly loses a match, a woman is haunted by a man in nothing more than tighty-whiteys and a bedsheet, and a yakuza boss leaves prison ready for business. This is just the beginning of Miike’s madness, a film that is consistently vibrant, surprising, inventive and always very weird. First Love continuously unravels in exciting ways, showing there is no bottom to the depths of how wild Miike can get. To quote a character who fills a bullet hole with heroin during a gunfight, “This is fucking wild!”
First Love all takes place over the course of one night, and what a busy night it is. The primary players here here are Leo (Masataka Kubota), the aforementioned boxer who finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor, who saves Yuri (Sakurako Konishi), a heroin-addicted prostitute when she’s being chased by a corrupt cop. This cop is working with Kase (Shôta Sometani), a yakuza, who plans on stealing his boss’ drugs and framing Yuri for the crime.
This doesn’t even scratch the surface of what First Love gets into, and Miike, with frequent screenwriter Masayoshi Nakamura, indulges in as much experimentation and fun as they possibly can. The constant changing of genre and mood end up becoming the film’s tone. One moment, a character is discovering that her drug dealer has been killed, and soon she’s involved in a humorous fight where she kills a man solely through kicks. The style here turns on a dime, and that’s to the film’s benefit, making every scene a complete uncertainty as to where it goes. By the time First Love turns a car chase into an animated sequence, it’s just par for the course in terms of what this film can do.
First Love isn’t all wild whims and radical techniques, as the first half hour or so takes a bit to get going, as Nakamura is setting all the pieces in place for the insanity that is to come. While it’s revving up, First Love is still all over-the-place in terms of the film’s spirit, but not in the way that it embraces once it film really gets going. Instead, the beginning feels like Miike and Nakamura deciding what type of film this should be, before just screwing expectation and making it all types of film at once.
But despite throwing genre out the window, it’s probably the comedy in First Love that stands out the most. With every different type of film they play off of, there’s always a level of humor. For example, Kase is trying to keep his hands on the drugs he stole, but in this search he just cannot quit killing people. At first, it’s out of survival, but after several accidents occur, Kase ends up losing count and the deaths are almost commonplace. Miike and Nakamura even make trauma hilarious, somehow finding the right level of levity in both Leo’s recent tumor diagnosis and Yuri’s disturbing past with her father. There’s just enough absurdity here to almost forgot just how dark the themes Miike and Nakamura are playing with really are.
Considering Miike has made close to a hundred films in just a few decades as a filmmaker, that makes First Love even that more incredible. It’s frankly shocking that a director this deep into his career can create a film as daring and unconventional. First Love has the ambition of a first-time director trying to do so much all at once, but with the consideration and care that comes from a filmmaker that has done this literally a hundred times before.