Takashi Miike has never been one to play it safe. With over 100 films under his belt in a little over 28 years, you would think the writer-director had exhausted all possible scenarios in which he could showcase his singular tastes and proclivities. And yet here we are with his latest, First Love, a twisty underworld thriller that contains more than a few of those indelible Miike moments, the squareness of the surrounding tissue notwithstanding. This is a film that, with just a few tiny tweaks, could be re-made into a standard-issue Hollywood action-comedy. That is not something one wants to hear when seeking out the latest Miike opus. Is this the same man who once made a film for which a ticket purchase came with an actual barf bag? An argument could be made that Miike has been pursuing something akin to mainstream accessibility and critical acceptance for over a decade now, with films like 13 Assassins and Blade of the Immortal leading the charge; Ichi the Killer they most certainly were not.
And while First Love seems to hearken back to those earlier days, what with its story of a young boxer with a brain tumor who inadvertently gets tangled up in a Yakuza turf war, the very look of it tells you that this is 2019 Miike. Gone is the grunge and grit; this is sleek and shiny, like a bulletproof Escalade. And then there’s the CGI blood, the worst thing that could’ve happened to a filmmaker like Miike. Ever since it first appeared in the early 2000’s, it has made the auteur’s work feel safe and sanitized, no matter how many heads roll. That’s not to say First Love isn’t a whole lot of fun. But it is also one of those films where the double and triple crosses feel simultaneously clever and obvious — and also the reason this review is so vague on plot details. Hell, even the big ending action sequence, set in a sporting goods store, feels overly familiar, especially after this summer’s Stuber. And the fact that I just referenced Stuber in a review for the latest Miike movie should tell you everything you need to know.
Published as part of September 2019’s Before We Vanish.