Not just a regular selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, but also a fixture of the festival’s frequently ballistic Midnight Madness program, Takashi Miike has expectedly hit another home run in his latest cinematic effort. First Love has all the usual kinetic craziness you would expect from a Miike film, but it also surprisingly delivers some of the director’s most tender storytelling to date. And as expected, it was extremely difficult to walk out of this screening without a huge grin on my face.
Set on the mean streets of downtown Tokyo, First Love revolves around amateur boxer
Leo (Masataka Kubota) and local drug addict Monica (Sakurako Konishi) who find
themselves at the center of an evolving dispute between two rival gangs – one
Japanese, and the other Chinese. To complicate matters, a policeman is also
somehow involved in this gang war, setting into motion a night destined for
violence and betrayal. Moreover, it sets the stage for the Miike to unleash his
unyielding creativity in its fullest form.
What’s most impressive about First Love is Miike’s mastery of depicting organized chaos in such
an entertaining way. Despite having a rather complicated storyline weaving a
number of even more complicated (but memorable) characters, the film never
misses a beat. Every ounce of violence, comedy and romanticism is clearly
punctuated thanks to Miike’s command as a filmmaker. The love story between the
two leads, which initially seems a bit contrived, also ends up being unexpectedly
tender. It’s the plotline that really anchors the film’s emotional tone.
When it comes to violence and action, the film does not disappoint in any way. Characters are just as bombastic as one would expect in a film like this while the rivalry between Japanese and Chinese gangsters results in comedic and crowd-pleasing moments. A lot happens on screen, which doesn’t seem to overwhelm Miike, who even manages to work in a one-armed gangster brandishing a firearm while wearing something akin to a black trench coat. This shout-out to classic Hong Kong cinema was really just the cherry on top of an already flavorful product.
It’s unnerving to think that Miike has been making films for
more than 30 years now and yet somehow shows no signs of slowing down creatively.
There’s no question that First Love
is a Miike film, but that’s not to say that it feels tired or uninspired. In
fact, as with all his other recent films, there’s a sense of vitality to it
that is beyond impressive. Many filmmakers work beyond their twilight years,
but few are able to sustain this level of qualifying ambition. Miike is truly a
remarkable filmmaker who hopefully has another combustible 30 years ahead of
Wilson Kwong is a cinema lover and film festival enthusiast based out of Toronto, Canada. He normally works in healthcare, but escapes from his day job by writing random thoughts about cinema on the internet. Within the realm of Asian cinema, his focus is on the Hong Kong film industry. He is currently touring Toronto’s film festival circuit and the rest of his work can be found on his website throwdown815.