At long last, I get to write about Takashi Miike! The insane and uncategorizable Japanese filmmaker has now directed a whopping 103 feature films, and who knows? He might just have added to that total while I was writing this. It’s true that some of his movies have been absolute crap, which isn’t surprising from a creator who is so prolific. However, his best movies have been uniquely uplifting (his 2001 musical The Happiness of the Katakuris), disturbing (his 1999 horror film Audition), or bizarre enough that you just have to watch (his 2008 English-language Sukiyaki Western Django). None of those makes an ideal entry point into his enormous body of work, so it’s wrong to expect that from First Love, which is somehow the very first of his movies to play in a Fort Worth theater. However, as a crime thriller with enough twists and jokes to keep you engaged, it’s not half bad.
If you know Miike, you know not to expect a hearts-and-flowers romance despite the title. We begin with Leo Katsuragi (Masataka Kubota), an up-and-coming professional boxer until he loses a fight in uncharacteristic fashion and discovers he has a brain tumor that will kill him soon. Meanwhile, a meth addict and prostitute who works under the name of Monica (Sakurako Konishi) turns tricks to pay off her father’s debt to the yakuza. They’re brought together by Kase (Shôta Sometani), a mid-level gangster who has his own side scheme going with a crooked cop (Nao Ōmori). They plan to hijack a Chinese meth shipment and frame Monica for it, but that plan goes awry when she hallucinates the ghost of her possibly not dead father and runs away. Leo sees her on the street shouting for help, mistakes the pursuing crooked cop for an attacker, and knocks him out.
Over the course of one frenetic night, the ensuing mayhem pulls in Chinese triads, out-of-control police officers, and Monica’s pimp’s girlfriend (played by the single-named TV star Becky), who turns into a psychotic rage monster after the pimp is shot to death and starts stabbing everyone in her path to get to the murderer. We’ve seen crime farces like this one from other countries where everyone who’s supposed to be killed gets away and everyone who’s supposed to be left unharmed is killed. If Miike hits some dead spots, he also injects the story with his own familiar touches, like a car stunt that’s rendered in animation because he doesn’t have the budget to film it in live action. The scene during a car chase where Monica performs fellatio on Kase to get to the meth that has spilled down his pants feels very Miike, for better and worse. He has a nameless gangster complain about a leg cramp just before being shot in the leg, and Leo’s neurologist (who may just be the most incompetent and insensitive doctor in all of Japan) leaves him an outrageous phone message in the midst of a shootout. Speaking of which, the car chases and shootouts are filmed capably, as Miike has had a ton of practice doing such sequences. This exercise isn’t deep, nor does it have the stylistic flourishes from Miike’s most memorable films, but if you’re looking for a violent romp, you won’t go wrong with First Love.
Starring Masataka Kubota and Sakurako Konishi. Directed by Takashi Miike. Written by Masa Nakamura. Not rated.