'First Love' Review: Takashi Miike's Latest Film Is As Romantic As It Is Ruthless [Fantastic Fest 2019]

Eventually, everyone has a first love. No matter where you find it or with whom, there is a chaotic and exciting rush that attaches itself to that particular feeling. With over one hundred films under his belt, director Takashi Miike is an expert at juggling all of the beauty and brutality that encompasses the emotional state of love. Rich in components of fear, revenge, anger, and sweetness, Miike delivers a pure knockout in his latest film, First Love.Miike comes out swinging as we're introduced to Leo (Masataka Kubota), an ambitious boxer who was rushed to the hospital after collapsing during a fight. He learns he is terminally ill with a brain tumor at the base of his neck. In one moment, his entire life changed. Hopelessly wandering the streets, Leo decides to accept a reading from a fortune teller. The oracle tells him to stop fighting for himself and instead fight for someone else. This revelation is the underlying theme that permeates through the film: whether it be pride, honor, love, or revenge, everyone has a certain fight in them, but how we use it and where we direct it can vary. Later that evening, Leo encounters Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a sex worker who is forced to pay off her father's debts to the notorious Yakuza and uses substances to deal with the haunting images that follow her everywhere she goes. Their chance meeting occurs as a result of a drug sting gone wrong. A crooked cop by the name of Otomo (Nao Ohmori) conspires with a Japanese gangster named Kase (Shota Sometani) to steal a shipment of drugs from one of Kase's associates and his girlfriend. The two decide to frame Monica in the process, and Leo's naive interjection causes a domino effect of clashing rivalries. The blossoming lovebirds are then on the run from the Japanese mafia, the police, Kase's boss, Kase, and Otomo. Subsequently, everyone is out for blood.Writer Masa Nakamura seamlessly weaves together each character's storyline while circumventing any extraneous scenes in the film's 108 minute-long runtime. It's a concise, propulsive plot that keeps audiences on the edge of their seats both visually and narratively. Every subplot contains ample amounts of suspense and violence that pushes the narrative forward at a steady, engaging pace.Several characters possess an aspect of circumstantial duality to compliment the film's multifaceted setting. Leo finds life and love in the face of death. Otomo has ulterior motives while maintaining his career as a police offer. And Juri (Becky) is deceptively strong and vicious in her otherwise weakened state of grief after her boyfriend was murdered in the cross-hairs. The depths of the characters alter as their situations fluctuate throughout the night, thus igniting bursts of small but plentiful twists.The chemistry between Konishi and Kubota is adorably heartwarming. Their interactions perfectly capture the uncertainty of an initial crush and eventually blossom into a romance, even amidst all the bloodshed. Despite his professional career as a boxer, Leo is fairly shy. His reserved disposition is a facetious compliment to his bloodthirsty and money-hungry villainous counterparts, which aptly sets up some of the film's best comedic moments.The fight choreography is top-notch with swift samurai sword decapitations and crisp hand-to-hand combat. Close-up tracking shots and aerial shots exemplify how Miike's keen style of filmmaking is as sharp as the swords that slice his antagonists, while his taste for violence is sweetened with the soft innocence of Leo and Monica's adoration. The comedic elements, such as over-the-top kills and Monica's father dancing in his underwear on a subway, provide a cathartic release of tension. And the humorous scenes can also be representative of human dynamics. Even in the worst moments, there can be hope, kindness, love, and yes, comedy. First Love reminds us that these are the things worth fighting for./Film Rating: 8 out of 10