Director Takashi Miike makes a lot of movies. Many of them don't make a big splash in the U.S. Those that do are often some of his most bonkers, shocking films such as Ichi, The Killer and Audition. Those films often work as dares to brave filmgoers. Can you stomach the new Miike film? His newest film, First Love, contains some signature elements of those midnight movie classics but it has something that you may not expect running through it. This film is sweet and goodhearted, not things often associated with the prolific director. As a result, First Love is one of his most approachable films for any film lover.
The film follows Leo, a Japanese boxer whose life is fighting. After he gets knocked out by a light punch, Leo sees a doctor who tells him he has a deadly brain tumor. Meanwhile, Monica is a drug-addicted young woman who is being pimped out by her sexually abusive father who owes money to a Yakuza clan. How these two meet is one of the film's many joys. It involves a complex scheme involving a bag full of drugs and a war between two clans. Leo decides to do something meaningful with the remainder of his life, tries to save Monica and gets caught up in a gang war. Think Joe vs. the Volcano with more blood, martial-arts, and gun-play.
Miike deftly manages several tones of the film. Monica regularly sees visions of her father as a genuinely frightening ghost. The bumbling idiots behind the scheme to steal the bag of drugs yield lots of laughs. Leo's story is genuinely affecting as a transformation from self to self-less. The action scenes are stellar often combining martial-arts, car chases and gunplay. That these elements and tones sing together make First Love a uniquely fun and enjoyable film.
First Love will standout in Miike's huge body of work. With over a hundred films to his name, few of them have the heart this one has. It may seem like a small thing but Miike matures just enough here to keep him interesting as a director. The acting is all pitched at a crazy level but it works. First Love is a hugely entertaining film that mixes Miike's love for bizarre grotesquery with real emotions. Who knew his biggest evolution would be to sympathize with his characters.