Released in the UK on streaming, disc and cinemas on Valentine’s Day 2020, the latest from Takashi Miike arrives in time to offer an alternative to rom-coms and feel-good fare, with a release in Japan scheduled for later this month. Those familiar with the director will know what to expect; yes, we’re talking suits, neon, Samurai swords, ceilings, offbeat comedy, splattery violence and occasional lyricism. But as the title suggests, First Love has a more tender side than, say, 2007’s Detective Story, and it’s an ideal introduction to the auteur’s work.
One night in Tokyo, boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) gets some bad news; a loss of consciousness has a dark cause, and he’s advised that a developing brain tumour is likely to shorten his life considerably. Leo is understandably consumed with rage at the injustice, but soon has other issues to deal with, namely Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a call-girl who is involved on the fringes of a drug-deal gone wrong, one which draws policemen, assassins and various other interested parties together for a series of violent encounters.
First Love places a tender love story at the centre of a hard-boiled genre piece; the world of the film could easily map onto the John Wick universe, which has a similarly glossy, gritty feel. Things really take off in the last ten minutes with a dynamic animated section and some haunting imagery as the pursuit ends, and there’s more than a few choice moments of carnage. If anything, there’s a little too much story and too many characters running around, but the focus on the tentative relationship between Leo and Monica keeps things empathetic.
Perhaps the success of Parasite will renew the love-affair between audiences and subtitled films; those with the stomach for the endless fray will enjoy the graphic dynamism of Takashi Miike’s direction, which mixes the comic and serious with deadpan style. Monica’s hallucinations of her dead father indicate the film’s empathy with a seriously wronged women, and Leo is an appropriate surrogate for audience concerns. First Love is tough, silly, violent and thoughtful by turns; if you enjoy extreme cinema, find someone who feels the same, kick back, and enjoy the internecine world of First Love.