First Love (2019): Takashi Miike Hasn’t Lost His Ability to Surprise in the Best Way

It’s just ridiculous how Miike is pushing 60 now, he’s made over 100 films and he’s still making films with that joyful, youthful verve. He’s making the kind and variety of movies that Quentin Tarantino forgot how to do when he hit puberty. Ironically though, this does in a way feel like Miike’s ‘Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood‘. For one it is a bit baggy, (although not half as baggy as ‘… In Hollywood‘), and it does also feel like we’re rattling through every beat we’ve seen Miike hit, tone-wise in all his other movies individually, just in this really punchy, accessible, mainstream package. We get the burning Yakuza grit of the vintage Miike stuff; we get the comedy of ‘Visitor Q‘, or ‘Terra Formars‘, or ‘Yakuza Apocalypse‘; we get the tender teenage coming of age romance of something like ‘For Love’s Sake‘; the thrilling action outrageousness of his ‘Dead or Alive‘ trilogy; and also you get hints of his classic samurai action from stuff like ‘Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai‘; and there is the visceral, haunting horror of ‘Audition‘. Also tonally ‘Happiness of the Katakuris‘, or ‘Yakuza Apocalypse‘ is not a bad comparison point to this, although it’s much better. 

What Miike has crafted for us is another blistering gangster epic with the kind of visceral thrill he hasn’t delivered since the first Dead or Alive. it’s really funny, looks gorgeous, is as outrageous as we’ve come to expect, and it’s got absolutely some of Miike’s sharpest characters and individual set pieces he’s ever put to screen. This film also shows off his knack for cinematic images that will burn their way into your perennial cinematic retina excellently. There is one sequence involving a taser gun, early on, that might just be my 2nd favourite Miike sequence, (nothing can quite top that hallucination in ‘Audition‘ for me). It does have to be said the comedy necrophilia scene in ‘Visitor Q‘ is up there. 

I do think it has issues though, it does take a bit long to actually get to the point, which is the point where it really gets very very good, it’s a tad too drawn out, and the samurai sword fighting has never been Miike’s strong suit action-wise. However, overall I think the movie is fun enough to outweigh that. It does in some ways also feel like the anti-‘Ichi The Killer‘. it’s got the fucked up horror stuff but it subverts that so beautifully and really does show us we can have that crazy, Yakuza, OTT, violent fun without all the overly leery, nasty stuff of ‘Ichi‘. There is also a moment right at the end, and a line, with a kind of beautiful simplicity, paired with horrible internal tragedy and thematic richness and craft of storytelling that bought me right back to the “isn’t life disappointing?”, like from ‘Tokyo Story‘.

My one piece of advice though is that this might not be the best starting point for Miike fans because going back to the rest of his cannon will probably feel like diminishing returns, because this does feel a bit like EVERY MIIKE FILM AT ONCE, and you’ll have to work very hard to find another Miike film quite as cinematically punchy as this one. 

I’m not saying this is the best film at LFF, but am I glad that I got to see this over the other films there which I’m missing? Yeah. I just really, really love that’s 2019, in this kind of Marvel-‘Star Wars‘-‘Joker‘-‘Fast and the Furious‘ fuelled blandification of cinema, and I can still go and see a BRAND NEW Takashi Miike film. It just, it makes me feel good about cinema. It makes me feel happy and proud to be a film fan that we have a talent like him, and that he’s still working. Especially after the slight misfire that was ‘Blade of the Immortal‘, he really hasn’t lost his edge at all, if anything he’s firing at the top of his game.


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