FIRST LOVE (HATSUKOI)
(director: Takashi Miike; screenwriter: Masaru Nakamura; cinematographer: Nobuyasu Kita; editor: Akira Kamiya; music: Koji Endo; cast: Sakurako Konishi (Monica), Masataka Kubota (Leo), Shoto Sometani (Kase), Nao Ohmori (Otomo), Becky Rabone (Julie), Sakurako Konishi (Yuri aka Monica), Jun Murakami (Ichikawa), Uchino Seiyo (Gondo); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Munyeki Kii, Jeremy Thomas, Misako Saka; Well Go USA Entertainment; 2019-Japan/UK-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“It’s an enjoyable and well-executed commercial film, but more standard than a top-level Miike one.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Prolific Japanese cult-pulp B-movie filmmaker Takashi Miike (“Audition”/”13 Assassins”) has made over 100 films in a 30 year career, and has a large international following. In this familiar trademark Miike hard-boiled Yakuza film, shown at Cannes and scripted by Masaru Nakamura, there’s a mix of much bloodshed (mostly cartoonish) and black comedy (with the absurd comedy besting the gory violence in this viewer’s eyes). We feast on rival Chinese-Japanese gangsters having a go at one another with such weapons as samurai swords and catch strange but funny surreal scenes like ghostly apparitions dancing through subway trains in their underpants. All the characters are comic strip stereotypes and there are no provocative conclusions to be drawn, but it offers dazzling visuals, is kinetically effective in its execution and its over-the-top action is highly entertaining. It also surprises with a Pop Art-style animation sequence.
All the action takes place over one night in Tokyo.
Leo (Masataka Kubota) is a talented young Japanese boxer who comes from a screwed-up family and has been diagnosed during a hospital check-up after a blackout with an inoperable deadly brain tumor. The illness makes him fearless in the ring and sullen outside the ring. Yuri aka Monica (Sakurako Kanishi) is an innocent woman sold into a life of prostitution and drug addiction by her abusive father to pay off his debts to the yakuza. These doomed souls meet and romantically connect one fateful night in Tokyo, after the boxer rescues her from being chased in the street by an older corrupt cop (Uchino Seiyo).
Yuri it turns out is an unwitting key player in a wild plot of a low-level yakuza to steal a large drug stash owned by the yakuza. A double-cross has been hatched by the treacherous but moronic baby-faced Japanese gangster Kase (Shota Sometani) of his implacable older yakuza bosses. Kase plans on fixing it so the rival Chinese gangster clan is blamed for the heist that he has secret deal with crooked cops to carry out.
But the night proves to be a long one and with many perilous twists and changing events. For one thing there’s the unexpected sword-wielding, fierce femme fatale warrior, Julie (Becky Rabone), out for revenge against the yakuzas following the murder of her yakuza pimp boyfriend.
All the actions by the various parties, including an early boxing scene and a latter decapitation, lead to the deadly finale set in a deserted hardware store, where the two sympathetic fugitives are thrown into the middle of a huge showdown involving Japanese mobsters, corrupt police, a one-armed Chinese bandit (with a shotgun) and elite Chinese assassins. We hold our breaths hoping love can win out and the couple can find a way to escape from their predicament, as the bodies pile up.
It’s an enjoyable and well-executed commercial film, but more standard than a top-level Miike one.
REVIEWED ON 10/2/2019