Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our breakdown-like reviews of festival films, VR previews and other special events. This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival 2019.
"This is damned wild! , "Says an injured yakuza member to no one, deep in the heart of Takashi's latest action thriller, First love. And he is certainly not wrong. The rule can read as a congratulatory piece of meta commentator, such as Miike and screenwriter Masaru Nakamura who praise themselves for the extreme extremity of the situation in which they have brought their characters. By the time he delivers the line, Miike and Nakamura have already crammed the film with fighting Japanese gangs, a modern samurai, a ruthless murderer, an escaped sex slave, a one-armed triad boss, a huge bag of drugs and many more excuses for bloody confrontations .
But given that the character delivers the line from the back seat of a wild-running vehicle that is being chased by both the yakuza and a triad, and that it bleeds while being covered from head to toe with meth, it is also quite relatable moment. The film is damn wild, in the most joyous, outrageous and ridiculous way, and the public will probably feel exactly the same emotions he expresses.
WHAT IS THE GENRE?
Crime thriller. Miike has worked in a wide range of genres, from the horrific body horror (and social commentary) of Audition to the farcical musical comedy from The luck of the Katakuris to the fantasy of the traditional children The Great Yokai War. But he often returns to the underworld of his native Japan, where clashes between yakuza factions, law enforcement officers and criminals, or between foreigners and native gangsters all offer rich opportunities for the extreme violence that made him famous. Despite the tender title, First love is not primarily focused on romance. It's more about corruption, betrayal and clashing agendas between amoral characters who all pursue the same payout.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
It takes a while First love to come into the picture, because there are so many characters to enter, and it is initially unclear which ones matter and which ball food is. But in the end a few come forward as the key to the story: Monica (Sakurako Konishi) is an addict who pays off her father's debts with sex work, while she pays her own debts to her abusive pimps, Yasu (Takahiro Miura) and his western girlfriend Julie ( credited) only if & # 39; Becky & # 39;). Yasu and Julie are in the middle of a large drug deal for a yakuza group, but one of the yakuza, Kase (Shôta Someani) has involved corrupt agent Otomo (Nao Ohmori) in a plan to steal and resell the drugs, and Monica to frame. Meanwhile, Leo (Masataka Kubota), a young boxer, is told that he has a brain tumor, his boxing career is over and he doesn't have to live long.
First loveThe title comes from the relationship between Monica and Leo, who meet under stressful circumstances and form a bond that initially means everything to her, and not much to him. She initially looks like a fairly standard crime lady in need, too gentle and damaged to be a femme fatale, but just as capable of pulling a hero into a deadly conflict. But the flesh of the film is not really in their relationship – it is in Kase & # 39; s ambition, Julie & # 39; s great anger as soon as the plot starts, Otomo & # 39; s shaky behavior and the way the stakes increases when the Chinese triad boss also shows an interest in Yasu & # 39; s stock.
WHAT IS IT REALLY ABOUT?
First love is more about big characters and big action than subtle themes, but at a certain level it is certainly about how connection defines people and how new connections can help people escape old nightmares. Without fully realizing what he is doing, Leo helps Monica find a way in her history of abuse. In less positive developments, Kase and Otomo pull each other away from their respective organizations and to betrayal that puts everyone on a much more dangerous path. Almost everyone in the film tries to come for it, but only the people who show some loyalty and selflessness have a chance to actually survive where their new connections place them.
IS IT GOOD?
It is awesome. Some of Miike's crime dramas can be humorless, naughty or overwhelmingly bloody – he is a highly productive director, sometimes with an average of four films a year, and has worked in many different modes. But he also has a striking dark humor and that often comes to the fore First love. Many of the characters are too large stereotypes, such as the honorary yakuza member who wears a katana and once cut off the arm of a member of the triad who is hunting for his crew. It says something that their mortal enmity – with the triad member coming out of jail with bloody vengeance in his head – is hardly a small sub-subplot in this crowded story.
But part of it First loveThe humor lies in the use of familiar types who do familiar things in particularly grand ways. Their face-off, plagued by the entire film, reads a bit like a gag because it feels like something more suited to a samurai epic than a gangland photo. But when it finally comes, it is exciting.
The budding romance of Leo and Monica is treated more seriously, but not in a particularly sentimental way. It is damaged and needy; he is a bit gentle and spends most of the film reasonably removed from the action because he is still processing his diagnosis. A fairly extreme crisis is needed to wake him up for what is happening around him. Their relationship is not entirely satisfactory – her weakness and his whiteness are both detrimental to the story – but it does lead to one of the most striking visual and emotional moments in the film, because Leo unintentionally gives her a new way to look at the ghost watching her sexually abusive father.
Usually, however First love is the kind of movie designed for fans of the all-seen genre who know these tropics (the cunning criminal, the dazed engineers, the lady's murderous murderer, etc.) and appreciate seeing them adjusted in new directions and treated with an air of dear familiarity instead of dusty airlessness. First love is not a comedy, but it accumulates the abrupt surprises and "I can't believe that just happened" laughs. Miike does not treat any of the storylines here very seriously, but he does create an important tension about how it all comes out. The film has problems in some ways – it is so overcrowded that it is difficult at first to separate the characters or to organize their & # 39; s, and the structure is much messier than the payout. But it's all worth it for that end result, which is inevitably damn wild.
WHAT SHOULD IT BE ASSESSED?
Hard R. Although not as graphically violent as some of Miike & # 39; s more exceptional work, it is set in a world where criminals go after each other with guns, knives and sometimes swords, and the results are messy.
HOW CAN I REALLY VIEW IT?
First love opens in limited theatrical release in New York City and Los Angeles on September 27 and will be widely released on October 4. Check the website of the film for available theaters and data.