Stuck in the Czech Republic as a result of a travel ban announced after the global Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, I watch one random film a day until the travel ban is lifted to keep some of my sanity intact.
Takashi Miike is a Japanese filmmaker known for his controversial, violent and bizarre movies. As far as his filmography goes, First Love is possibly as family-friendly as he is ever going to get. The film’s lead character is a young boxer named Leo (Masataka Kubota), who saves a young drug addict named Monica (Sakurako Konishi) shortly after he is diagnosed with brain tumor. As a result of his nice gesture, he finds himself thrown into a bloody and violent drug smuggling scheme.
This charming blooming romance of Leo and Monica is a romance between two characters, each of whom is broken in their own ways. Leo was abandoned as a child and never knew his parents; he also claims that he boxes because it is the only thing he knows how to do. Monica is a drug addict who is kept as a sex slave by the yakuza to bay off her father’s debt.
The charm of this romance is intensified by the glorious chaos that happens all around them as they innocently get to know each other. Violence, of course, is something that Miike has always done well and First Love – with the wealth of fight sequences, car crashes and myriads of weapons – is no exception. Yet, the entire film also has a comedic vibe to it, due to its general outrageousness, including strange characters and imaginative stunts. Towards the end, the filmmaker even finds time to make creative use of animation, which testifies to First Love‘s comic book-like nature.
In short, the film is fun to watch. Nonetheless, it also seems to have a serious side to it, as it critiques institutions, particularly in its portrayal of police corruption and the police’s close bond with the criminal underworld. In the end, Leo and Monica’s romance represents a type of salvation and one of the key messages of the film – that humanity remains life’s greatest virtue.
HATSUKOI | Director – Takashi Miike | Writer – Masaru Nakamura | Starring – Masataka Kubota, Sakurako Konishi | Japan, United Kingdom | 2019