First Love

Takashi Miike’s 2019 thriller sees a boxer (Masataka Kubota) rescue a call girl (Sakurako Konishi) from murderous gangsters. Let’s call it 13 Assassin’s Creed.

For his 103rd picture, the insanely prolific director pays tribute to the comparatively inert Quentin Tarantino. Returning the favour after Kill Bill‘s homage to Japanese cinema, Miike combines the boxing romance in Pulp Fiction, the trigger-happy Reservoir Dogs and the drug-smuggling lovebirds of True Romance. First Love finds another couple accidentally in possession of a large quantity of cocaine, except here it puts them bang in the middle of a drug war between the triads and yakuza.

Set over one night in Tokyo, the romance/crime/comedy is slow to start and oddly serious in tone. A man with a brain tumour meeting a woman whose father sold her into sex slavery is hardly a recipe for a romp, and the genre hybrid never really reconciles its sad streaks and sense of tumour. Fortunately the action picks up halfway through when Miike unleashes a whirlwind of guns, swords and hockey sticks, culminating in the messiest hardware store showdown since The Equalizer.

At the centre of this janitorial nightmare is the sweet pair whose meet-cute lands a dirty cop with concussion, their junkie journey of salvation having more heart than Blade of the Immortal. Sadly the comic violence comes at the expense of narrative and character development, lacking the eccentricity we have come to expect from the twisted filmmaker. And considering the movie features a ghost wearing Y-fronts, it is fair to say those expectations are high. But when you make 112 films they can’t all be Ichi the Killer, and middling Miike is still a cut above the rest.

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