Early on in First Love, the main character, Leo (Masataka Kubota), is in a boxing match. When he punches his opponent in the face, there’s a quick cut to a decapitated head bouncing out of an alley. The edit and the timing are done in a way that implies that the force of punch literally knocked the head off of Leo’s opponent. Like the film, that cut was amazing.
The decapitation introduces the main conflict of First Love. As detective Fu (Nao Ōmori) puts it, “The smell of war is in the air.” A Chinese gang has moved onto the territory of a Japanese one. A low-level Japanese gangster, Kase (Shôta Sometani), and Fu Fihave a plan to steal a big ole’ bag of meth. After, they’ll frame Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a young woman whose father sold into sex work to pay off his debts. Fu will sell the drugs. Kase will get into a fight with a civilian and spend two or three years in jail. When he comes out, the war will be over. Fu will give him his half and Kase will be a rich man.
What could go wrong?
For Kase, “an up-to-date Yakuza, [who grew up] globally,” it turns out absolutely everything. Monica has been doing meth and withdrawal has made her delirious. As she walks down the street with Fu, she hallucinates her father running toward her and flees, screaming for help. Leo, who had just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, wouldn’t normally get involved, but takes the opportunity to knock Fu out. He feels good for a minute, then spots Fu’s badge on the ground. He and Monica go on the run.
For Kase’s plan to work, he needs to find them, but the more time passes the more the two warring gangs get involved. They’re all looking for the drugs. They’re all hunting Monica. Leo is a wild card, not connected to either gang but capable of kicking any of their asses.
More than anything else, First Love reminded me of Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. They both have huge casts, and manic energy as the characters scramble for the films’ respective MacGuffins. What director Takashi Miike brings to the table that Guy Ritchie didn’t was sword fights. It takes the wildness to a-whole-nother level.
The entire cast turns their performances up to 11, matching the insanity of Masa Nakamura’s script. While everyone involved deserves kudos, the single-name actress Becky is spectacular as Julie. After being kidnapped at gunpoint, she overpowers the man who captured her and delivers some of the best lines of the film as she stomps on him. “Don’t spill your blood on my pants. I won’t be able to wear them again,” and “Don’t get out of this by dying.” She says them with such umph that she elevates what was already an excellently scripted scene.
The film, while mostly a crime comedy, has at least one terrifying moment. That horror trickles in will come as no surprise to anyone who’s seen Miike’s classic Audition, one of my favorite horror films. Monica is alone in between clients and coming down from the drugs, and the camera zooms in on a white comforter. Slowly, it expands, as though there’s someone or something growing inside it. It has a similar quality to Asami’s sack in Audition.
First Love isn’t a perfect movie. The ending is sickly sweet, but the ride to get there is fun as hell. It exudes energy, drawing viewers in and keeping them rapt for the full hour and forty-eight minutes. Miike and Nakamura find a way to keep topping themselves, as the movie gets progressively wilder.
The other disappointment is the lack of special features on this Blu-Ray. The only one included are trailers for First Love, which I honestly wonder about. Who’s watching the trailers for a movie they own? Did they not know what movie they were getting? Will they return it if the trailer isn’t to their satisfaction?
Even without special features, First Love is a lot of fun.
Wicked Rating – 9/10
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Masa Nakamura
Starring: Masataka Kubota, Nao Ōmori, Shôta Sometani, Sakurako Konishi, Becky
Release: February 11, 2020 (Blu-Ray and Digital)
Runtime: 108 minutes