First Love Review
With more than 100 films behind him, Takashi Miike has tackled all genres, always trying to mix them up (his horror comedy, The Happiness of the Katakuris, being one of the most telling examples). With First Love, the director depicts once again the underworld of Tokyo where crazy people of all kinds meet during the night. In Miike's films, the city often turns into a broth culture where evil meets madness and social change, a suitable sandbox for the director’s many delusions.
One night, in Tokyo, Leo (Masataka Kubota), a down-on-his-luck young boxer meets Monica (relative newcomer Sakurako Konishi), a call girl and addict but who is still an innocent. Monica unwittingly gets caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme, and the two are pursued through the night by a corrupt cop and members of both the Yakuza and the Chinese triads.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the character of Leo is quickly diagnosed with a brain tumour, as if he too was contaminated by the surrounding dementia, giving in to the great disorder that presides Miike’s cinema in general. Whilst this is not the best news a twenty something year old boxer can hear, it nevertheless launches the story; breathing life into this horrifying environment and allowing the two main protagonists to get closer.
As such, First Love firstly resembles a social thriller which gradually gets tinged with romance. The narration, which alternates points of view and angles, and gradually alters its initial tone is an opportunity to remember that Miike's cinema is not only a hallucinatory trip eager to intoxicate the viewer with striking shots or bursts of gory scenes, it is above all a matter of mastery and perfect knowledge of the medium. As creative and edgy the editing is, the ambient mess never interferes with the viewing comfort of the audience. The legibility of the script and the clarity of the narration are all ingredients that the director controls with amazing talent, and a sense of remarkable simplicity. And during First Love’s best moments, Miike displays a sense of creation which passes, above all, through an art of jubilation.
Miike’s cinema has often been compared to that of Quentin Tarantino (the American director even had a brief cameo in the Japanese director’s Eastern-Western Sukiyaki Western Django) but, if the two directors do share an acute cinematic style - and an obvious taste for the ruptures of tone -Miike’s cinema, all things considered, has more in common with Sam Raimi’s. Not that the two envisage mise-en-scene in the same way, but for one as for the other, the acceleration of movement and the richness of style, gives the camera itself a life of its own, to the point of making it a complete character. And this becomes a very important aspect when the director begins to massacre the film's characters and pushes the chromatic palette into overdrive.
First Love might not be one of Miike’s best films, but its curious mixture of craziness and mastery, balance and fury make it one of the best ambassadors of his author, and one of his most accessible works.
First Love is released on Friday 14th February