It’s always astonishing to me how a director like Takashi Miike is able to push himself into making so many films compared to his own lifespan. There’ll come a point where I’d even find myself asking about how he remains so consistent with having made so many films with that same distinguishable style – but the fact that he’s still able to provide so many of these films would be more than enough to say that the Japanese film industry would never be the same without him. With his latest film, First Love, Takashi Miike does not quite enter new territory just yet but it does not make his films any less entertaining than they always are to watch. But even the tamest of Takashi Miike’s style of filmmaking can also have some of its more interesting aspects to observe and with First Love, he still provides an entertaining ride from start to finish.
First Love is not exactly a romance story the way one would remember such to be, because the two lovers we see happen to be none other than a boxer with a life-threatening brain tumour named Leo (Masataka Kubota) and the traumatized drug addict Monica (Sakurako Konshi), who still sees visions of her late father in her own hallucinations. But eventually, the seemingly innocent pair-to-be ends up getting caught within a war between rival gangs, after a scheme by a punk named Kase (Shota Sometani) ends up going horribly wrong, and a corrupt cop named Otomo (Nao Omori) ends up getting involved. To say the least, Takashi Miike allows the film to live up to its very fitting title, but the ride he provides is a whole other ride altogether.
Takashi Miike has always been known for being able to embrace the ridiculousness within whatever material he’s given, but also switching tone so drastically in such a way that the images of his films will get under your skin. Perhaps it was the fact I had already carried such an expectation that may have hampered how I felt overall about First Love, but knowing how Miike is not the sort of filmmaker that would ever hold back on the bodacious content you could possibly visualize, there was a part of me that still felt he could have definitely went out for something so much crazier too. That’s not to say First Love would ever shy away from Miike’s insanely distinctive style of filmmaking, but compared to films like Ichi the Killer, The Happiness of the Katakuris, or Lesson of the Evil, you can’t help but feel as if he could also have taken everything a step further.
Yet nevertheless, the ride doesn’t stop from the way in which Takashi Miike tells what presents itself as an unconventional love story of sorts. Leo and Monica’s chemistry is what drives most of the film, but knowing that Miike is still able to juggle so many story threads all in the same span of time, it also speaks towards how successful First Love is – because there’s never a moment where you find he starts losing his momentum. It still feels rather self-indulgent, perhaps not even in the best way for Miike at that, for there are many moments in First Love that still feel incredibly unpolished – particularly with many elements involving the Chinese mafia. There’s never a moment where I found myself bored, but Miike leaves too many pieces behind in a puzzle where he expects audiences to fully piece them together and it just leaves behind a mess all around.
I’m more than impressed by the fact that Takashi Miike has kept himself as busy as he is, retaining that same style within every one of his newest projects. First Love could be best described as emblematic of everything that Takashi Miike continually pushes himself towards from start to finish and I will never not admire the fact that he consistently does so over the years, though the results may not always be what would be desired. For a film all about two lovers who are on the run as everything about the world starts chasing after them, First Love is ridiculously entertaining. But even then, I still felt as if I was hoping that there would be a lot more to come by than just that. He’s never lost his edge, and I can’t imagine the world of Japanese cinema being the same without a figure like Miike.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Well Go USA.
Directed by Takashi Miike
Screenplay by Masaku Nakamura
Produced by Muneyuki Kii, Jeremy Thomas, Misako Saka
Starring Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shôta Sometani, Sakurako Konishi, Becky, Jun Murakami, Sansei Shiomi, Seiyô Uchino
Release Date: September 13, 2019 (TIFF)
Running Time: 108 minutes