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First Love [2019] Cannes Review- A Hilarious Action Thriller from Takashi Miike

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My first ever experience at Cannes this year has cemented a couple of things about myself and how I perceive films. First, the genre is everything to me, especially hybrid genres that pay homage to their distinct audience appealing moments whilst not sacrificing entertaining characters and fresh ideas. Secondly, gore and violence paired with brilliant comedy might just be my favorite visceral pleasure on film. And it certainly explains my fascination with thrillers and horrors. These are the building blocks of cult status.

First Love (Hatsukoi) is a hilarious action thriller about a boxer and a trauma-stricken girl that encapsulates all of Takashi Miike’s wicked sense of style, and the crux of what makes that cult status so insanely special. When Leo (Masataka Kubota), who trains to a didgeridoo rock song (and I am tearing my hair out trying to locate it), finds out he has a tumor at the base of his skull, he is lost for purpose. However, he decides that this, in turn, means he is now free of consequence. A strong punch and a run in with Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a woman used for sex by the Yakuza, sends him on an unforgettable night of horror, drugs, swords, and bullets in triumphantly bombastic fashion. 

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The first and second act is what I’ve seen some describe as Miike’s John Hughes moment. Conversations capture enough angst to set up Leo as a care-free individual. But by the time everything kicks off, instead of crying at the breakfast club, he knocks out a police officer (because of course, he does). And don’t let my description fool you, this is most certainly not a fluffy light comedy all the way through, definitely not a cute Ferris Bueller situation. And I certainly don’t see a film in which Matthew Broderick fights the Japanese Mafia, despite what my studio emails beg for.

This has got a slight sense of weirdness at its least, and full-on brazen mania at its most vocal. People die, you know the drill, but the fun surrounding the sprayed organs is what makes it all that more spectacular. Others have even compared the sort of schadenfreude seen here to Scorsese’s After Hours, but *my* take is that the third act of Hatsukoi is 2019’s Free Fire. Everything goes wrong in a localized environment with a bunch of different criminals doing it for themselves, just saying folks! This is a comedy of errors first and foremost, an action thriller last, all sprinkled in with a heroic sense of overcoming the things which hold us back.

Every actor and actress here gives a viciously funny performance yet the absolute stand out is Shôta Sometani who plays Kase and is the Paul Hackett of this Yakuza mob scenario. There is a tendency to kill these characters in gratuitous fashion before they’ve had their moment and rest assured that Miike does not make that same mistake here. One of my only criticisms of this gnarly take on ‘The Hero’s Journey’ narrative is that Takashi could really make some use of the wide shot – up close angles work to amplify the intensity of the car chases but the direct contact hits feel a tad disoriented. That being said, its 99.9% directed with confident mania, say what you like about this controversial director but he damn well knows how to create a satisfying arc-resolving finale.

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First Love has truly reinvigorated my passion to discover more of these underappreciated, beautifully twisted independent movies which do nothing but present a batch of creative, insane people … and then have them all fight it out. I almost hope that this gets seen by more and more audiences, maybe even gain cult status, so that this director can continue making such furiously high-flown features.

First Love Rating: ★★★★★

First Love Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes

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