Audacious director Takashi Miike's latest is almost his (violent) version of a rom-com
Japanese director Takashi Miike is so prolific it’s exhausting. In just over a quarter century, he’s got more than 100 credits to his name.
I can’t say I’ve closely followed his career, but just seeing his name in the credits means viewers need to be prepared. His two most memorable films still call for that warning. “Audition,” from 1999, is one of those films you can only recommend to a certain type of person, a story of a man “auditioning” potential wives only to have the tables turned on him in horrific fashion. Miike’s 2001 crime-thriller “Ichi the Killer,” meanwhile, remains one of the best-known examples of extreme Japanese gore, an artsy stomach-churner that should also be filed under “hard to watch.”
So it’s with those caveats that I say that Miike’s latest film, “First Love,” is the director at his most pulpy, entertaining and, well, funny.
Of course, there’s also a still-blinking, beheaded, um, head in the opening two minutes. This is still a Miike joint, after all.
At the center of the story are Leo (Masataka Kubota), a young boxer who is recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Yuri (Sakurako Konishi), a young woman forced into sex work due to her father’s debt with the Yakuza.
Under a backdrop of organized crime turf wars and corrupt cops, Leo and Yuri find themselves embroiled in a violent struggle. Oh, and they fall in love along the way, obv.
Despite Miike’s obvious ability to disturb, “First Love” is his version of a light-hearted romp. Set at a breakneck pace and sprinkled with violence (that’s often slapstick), it’s certainly among the most purely entertaining things he’s done.
And it generally works for a movie as all over the map as this.
The Japanese organized crime setting isn’t new for Miike, but he manages to mine unexpected humor from bumbling and overconfident henchmen.
But for a movie called “First Love,” the love story may be the weakest link, with little more than a violent version of a movie “meet cute” to set it up.
That said, genre fans should be on alert. This might be your cheerful palate cleanser after the darkness of “Joker.”