LFF 2019: First Love – Review

Release date – 14th February 2020, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 48 minutes, Director – Takashi Miike

A young boxer (Masataka Kubota) runs in with a drug addict (Sakurako Konishi), and soon finds himself involved in a deadly drug-smuggling operation which includes corrupt cops, assassins and the yakuza.

Cult Japanese director Takashi Miike has become known for his rather outlandish, blood-soaked films, of which he often releases multiple a year – since 1991 he has directed over 100 projects. However, his latest project, First Love, might not quite be on the same level as Ichi The Killer – which in many countries was, if not banned, heavily edited just to be acceptable for release – or Yakuza Apocalypse, but there’s still a fair deal of violence held within the film. Violence which almost seems to have been pulled straight from a cartoon as if to help match the almost comedic nature of a number of the scenes and ideas.

Once Miike presses the button to start the film’s action there’s no way of stopping him, or the film as a whole. From the moment an old woman not only gets punched, but completely smacked to the floor, to someone jumping out of the window of their flat as it explodes behind them this is a nonsensical completely absurd feature. As protagonist Leo (Masataka Kubota), a young boxer who’s been told that he’s got a brain tumour, finds himself, after meeting drug-addicted sex slave Monica (Sakurako Konishi) he finds himself thrown into a world of drugs and gang violence, with assassins, the police and even the yakuza on his tail. The scale and absolutely off-the-wall bonkers nature of the film is enough to simply bring a big grin to the face of the viewer as they just forget how ridiculous the film is and begin to embrace the absurdity – which at times has hints of Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, especially during one of the final set-pieces.

Amongst all of this there’s very little room for an overall narrative. Everything seems to just happen as the action does, with no major sense of direction, only a sense that stuff is happening and it’s forming a loose narrative around it, something which is pushed further by the fact that the film as a whole doesn’t really make any sense. Something which at some points does get a bit too much – you do begin to almost want some form of order in the hope of knowing what’s actually going on amongst all the occasional hallucinogenic (genuinely, for Monica at least) tangents, some of which do begin to disconnect the viewer from the piece.

There’s not a great deal else to be said about the film. It’s slated Valentine’s Day release date is one that seems to be ironically used considering the general tone of the film, and the mostly lacking nature of romanticism amongst all the violence that the film holds. The film is all over the place, bloody and violent to create a further energy and sense of ridiculousness and it just about manages to get away with what it does and keep the audience in the absurd off-the-wall world for most of the run-time. Even if that does involve some potentially unintentional laughs.

Utterly ridiculous and unashamedly violent – with some slight hints of Free Fire thrown in just to add to the absurdity and chaos – it might not make any sense most of the time, and might just be completely bonkers, but First Love for the most part is a perfectly enjoyable, if deeply nonsensical, ride.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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