First Love (Hatsukoi)

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22nd January 2020

Takashi Miike Goes Boxing

The legendary and prolific director Takashi Miike is back with his only 2019 film (apart from a segment in That Moment, My Heart Cried), a slip from the three he directed in 2017, First Love.

Often it is difficult to pin down a Miike film, crazy is probably the most appropriate word, but they are so much more than that. They often involve Yakuza, as this does, and there’s usually lots of blood, as this has, and a body count, it’s all here.

However, First Love is perhaps one of Miike’s least crazy films of recent times, certainly that I can remember seeing. It’s a drama, a love story, a comedy with some action thrown in. They are in that order for a reason, you have been warned.

Leo, Masataka Kubota (“Tokyo Ghoul”, “13 Assassins”), is a shy orphan who has taken up boxing and turns out to be quite good. That is until he’s downed by a lame punch and, after a quick trip to the hospital, it transpires he has a tumour growing at the base of his brain.

Understandably, this knocks him for six a bit and, whilst wondering the streets, he happens upon a Monica, Sakurako Konishi (“Mio On The Shore”), running away from a cop, although actually she’s running away from an hallucination of her father, obviously.

Leo decks the cop (not knowing he’s a cop) and ends up embroiled in a night that will change his life forever. Monica is being framed for a drug snatch by Yakuza Kase, Shota Sometani (“Foreboding”, “Legend Of The Demon Cat”).

She quickly becomes the most wanted person by Kase, the cop, the Yakuza and the Chinese who are attempting to muscle in on the Yakuza’s patch. In the middle of this is Leo who thinks he is dying and Monica who is having regular hallucinations of her father, in his underpants.

OK, I realise that does sound pretty mental, but it’s tame comparatively speaking. Miike takes writer Masa Nakamura’s (“Sukiyaki Western Django”, “Andromedia”) script and gives us something that showcases these two people with their own issues, Leo and Monica, and how their oddness will actually bring them together.

Naturally there’s some sword fighting at play, as well as a moment when the whole thing becomes animated, albeit briefly. There’s also a decent amount of humour, not least when Kase becomes invincible, or at least, unable to feel pain.

It’s not Miike’s best, I think that’s fair to say, but if you’ve never seen a Miike film before, First Love is a very good intro as it has all the elements you expect from the master: cool soundtrack, swords, limbs being cut off, blood, screaming, comedy, tongue in cheek, weirdness etc, it just feels dialled back a notch.

First Love is available on Blu-ray and digital on February 11th in the USA and hits cinemas on valentine’s day in the UK. It’s perfect to take a date on…honest.

Signature Entertainment presents First Love in Cinemas, on Blu-ray & DVD from 14th February.

A young boxer and a call girl get caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme over the course of one night in Tokyo.

14th February 2020

Takashi Miike

Masa Nakamura

Running Time:
1h 48min

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