FIRST LOVE **** Japan / UK 2019 Dir: Takashi Miike. 108 mins
Written by regular collaborator Masa Nakamura and modelled partially on Tarantino’s TRUE ROMANCE script, Takashi Miike’s fourth co-production with the UK’s Recorded Picture Company is an engaging genre-blender fond of shifting between gruesome slapstick comedy (a blinking severed head splatting on to a rainy street), whimsy and flirtations with straight horror vaguely nodding to Miike’s AUDITION. Handsome young boxer Masataka Kubota is diagnosed with a large inoperable tumour at the base of his skull at the point where his career ambitions seem to be coming to fruition. In an echo of the plight of Clarence and Alabama, the paths of Kubota and pretty female escort Sakurako Konishi (sold into the sex trade by her own debt-ridden father) cross during one bloody night involving a crooked cop, a Chinese crimelord and a deceptively fresh faced gangster (Shota Sometani). Kubota and Konishi bring pathos and heart to the lead roles, with the grimmer elements of Konishi’s upbringing (note the creepily dancing middle aged man on the subway, clad in just his underpants) balanced in a typical Miike fashion with wacky tangents and casual violence. The basic plot is a convenient hook upon which Miike hangs a series of enjoyably random vignettes, from a whimsical bit with an overworked young nurse tipsy on apple sours to a show-stopper featuring a yapping toy dog. Old women are punched out and vengeful, ball-busting assassin Becky Rabone stomps on an easily distracted would-be male assailant for getting bloodstains on her clothes (“Don’t get out of this by dying!”). The story nods to prominent American movies, notably THELMA AND LOUISE – though one key plot twist is a riff on the largely forgotten JOE VERSUS THE VOLCANO. It shifts between hilarity and tragedy, from car chases to masturbation and even morphs into a Pop Art animation en route to its bittersweet denouement. The two romantic leads are worth rooting for, and the extended climactic warehouse showdown delivers the punchy Miike shootouts and swordfights you crave, alongside the Monty Python-esque comedy dismemberments he has always relished.
Review by Steven West