Arts movie review

First loves can be fun and crazy, and so is ‘First Love’

Many films play with drugs, violence, and romance, but ‘First Love’ takes it to another level in the best way possible

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Sakurako Konishi and Masataka Kubota star in 'First Love.'
Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

First Love
Directed by Takashi Miike
Screenplay by Masaru Nakamura
Starring Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Sakurako Konishi
Not Rated, Now Playing

Leo (Masataka Kubota) is haunted by an alleged brain tumor that cut his boxing career short. Yuri (Sakurako Konishi) is haunted by the ghost of her abusive father, who forced her into prostitution to pay off his own debts. As luck would have it, their paths cross — in the middle of a drug-smuggling scheme orchestrated by Kase (Shota Sometani), a two-faced and murderous yakuza. Leo eventually finds out that his “brain tumor” was actually a doctor’s mix-up, but not before a crazy night of bloody deaths, high-speed car chases, and of course, falling in love.

On top of drugs, First Love deals with almost every conceivable cliché about love and violence. Yet, director Takashi Miike holds nothing back in terms of action, and the result is an incredibly thrilling ride that overpowers its occasional sappiness. Ultimately, while the storyline feels very familiar, the direction of the movie feels fresh.

Miike successfully uses music for enhancing the mood and foreshadowing; it varies from dramatic and tense to peaceful and light, depending on what the scene needs. Moreover, while the soundtrack is frequently prominent, it never crowds out other elements of the film, supporting them like the leader of a team.

The other members of that team are nothing to sneer at either. The acting, especially from Konishi and Sometani, is superb. The subtleties in Konishi’s acting encapsulate Yuri’s deep emotional distress, particularly when seeing images of her abusive father. However, her chemistry with Kubota feels a bit one-sided; Kubota’s character, Leo, appears to be more in love with her than the other way around. Nonetheless, this does not detract from the movie, which centers more on the action and Leo’s love for Yuri anyways. Meanwhile, switching between a smooth-talking criminal mastermind and a (not really) innocent follower, Sometani’s layered performance vividly and believably depicts his character’s back-stabbing nature.

More than anything, the outstanding visual and sound effects bolster the fast pace of the movie. Even the most graphic scenes, including a decapitation, look and sound realistic enough that you experience a visceral reaction. (First Love isn’t rated, but if it were, it would definitely be rated R. If the sight of blood makes you queasy, make sure you have a trash can nearby when watching the movie.) In this way, First Love easily sucks you in and immerses you in its plot, unlike various poorly made action movies that can leave you laughing at their absurdity.

Miike truly goes all out here, which is exactly what a movie like this needs to succeed. Yes, First Love dips into clichés on occasion, but as a whole, it embodies that crazy, disordered, fast-paced fun of a great action movie. If you ever want to see a movie about drugs, violence, and romance, make this the one. Skip the traditional Hollywood fare. Go see First Love.