Back in 1991, Takashi Miike directed a film called “Toppuu! Minipato tai – Aikyacchi Jankushon“, which is reportedly a comedy about a daring policewoman in leotards, who defeats criminals using gymnastics. An odd subject for a debut but such is the Japanese studio system. Now almost 30 years later he has directed his 103rd feature (working on his 104th as I type this). How does he do it? How does he continue to find new stories to tell and remain passionate? His prolific output is probably more famous than any of his work to the extent that it has almost become a meme. There is little left for him to make. Western? Sukiyaki Western Django. Musical? He has two. Sci-fi? Terraformars. Superhero? Zebraman I & II. LGBT prison drama? Big Bang Love, A Juvenile. Anime adaptation? Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Game Adaptation? Ace Attorney. He even made a Ninja Kids movie. There is no one else like him. Whether he has recaptured the form that made him world-famous is impossible to say as he is deeply inconsistent, his only consistency comes from the fact that he will make at least two productions every year. That being said, the last few years has seen him produce some of the most fun titles of his career with Blade of the Immortal and First Love.
First Love sees him head back to the kind of films he made when he was operating in the V cinema market and around his 2001 halcyon with a Yakuza movie about a young lieutenant wanting to leave, manipulating a situation so it’ll benefit him with the help of a corrupt and unscrupulous policeman only he has zero luck with literally everything that could go wrong does. The reason it is named First Love is because of the chance meeting between two unlucky souls and how they slowly fall for one another, functioning as a lover’s on the run film acting as a nucleus to the anarchy.
Plot matters little to First Love – it is more of a collection of wild characters and how they react to an increasingly unlucky day than a story replete with beats, character development and arcs. Masataka Kubota is Leo, a boxer diagnosed with a brain tumour who gets dragged into this situation when Sakurako Konishi, a drug-addled prostitute called Monica has one of her visions of her father (who sold her to the Yakuza to pay off his gambling debts) running at her whilst wearing tighty whities, is screaming for help as he is walking the city streets. A visual queue that is hilariously subverted in a later train sequence. A few of the other major players include the films biggest star, a nearly unrecognisable turn from Shota Sometani as Kase, the young yakuza at the heart of events who happens to have the most glibly deadpan relationship to murder in any of Miike’s films. No small claim to fame. There’s also a murderous triad called One-Armed Wan who wields a pump-action shotgun and Julie, a woman who becomes the undying spirit of vengeance after surviving Kase’s multiple inept attempts to kill her. There are more players too, these are just the most fascinatingly weird players on the card.
This is the best version of Takashi Miike – the version where it is as plain as day that he is having the time of his life putting these characters through the wringer. Starting off with a crushed boxer mistakenly helping a young woman running away from a middle-aged man in the middle of Shinjuku and ends with an all-out fight to the death in a department store in which one of the people believes themselves impervious to pain because of the amount of cocaine they have ingested – even after their arm has been cut off. A scene that ends with a car smashing its way out of the side of a building in a frenetically colourful anime sequence. This is Miike doing what he does best. Does it matter that it takes a flow chart to follow who each character is in Masaru Nakamura’s script and what role they have or that the plot doesn’t pull together all its threads? No, that’s not the level First Love operates on. First Love is pure, colourful, gonzo fuelled adrenaline fun. Few in cinema operate in this glorious escapist register, especially this well – even after 103 films. It’s also very yellow.