Quality-wise, director Takashi Miike’s filmography is all over the map. How could it not be? Since 1991, the filmmaker has directed over 100 feature films that have ranged from lurid torture porn to jaunty family yarns. His best work (Audition, The Happiness of the Katakuris) ranks among Japan’s most sublimely bizarre cinema, while many of his worst efforts have been seen by maybe three people. First Love, available now on Blu-ray and VOD platforms, is Miike at his most (well, relatively speaking) absurd and technically proficient.
First Love’s plot bears more than a little similarity to the Bruce Willis subplot from Pulp Fiction, but now with enough gruesome comedy-of-errors antics to fill up two Coen Brothers films. Leo (Masataka Kubota), a skilled-but-arrogant young boxer, has a chance run-in with Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a meth-addicted prostitute on the run from Yakuza thugs, corrupt cops and Chinese gangsters. They’re almost immediately smitten with one another (hence the movie’s title) in a momentous Romeo & Juliet way.
Before these two characters intersect, First Love struggles to find its footing by setting up the convoluted criminal warfare that will eventually engulf our protagonists, who nevertheless suffer tunnel vision in their love for one another. The exposition is a bit clunky and easily the least interesting portion of the film, although there are a couple standout villains — most amusing being lunk-headed psycho Ichikawa (Jun Murakami), a bloodthirsty sadist who still manages to screw up or get his ass kicked on the job at every turn.
Of course, as with most Miike flicks, we’re only here for two things — his striking surrealist imagery and sleek, silly ultraviolence. First Love teases at the latter almost immediately, with the image of a severed head gasping and blinking in an alleyway like a dying fish. Meanwhile, the victim’s headless body lurches forward in shock.
But it takes a good 30 minutes or so until we get generous servings of both. For Miike purists, this movie might best be described as a cross between 2003’s weirder-than-weird gangster flick Gozu crossed with the immaculate combat of 2010’s 13 Assassins. The violence, while constantly brutal, begins at heightened and ends at ludicrous. Limbs are sliced off with hilarious nonchalance, heads explode, and blood spurts by the gallon. It’s all quite glorious. And meanwhile, ghosts parade around in their underwear and men amp themselves up by pouring powdered meth directly into their gunshot wounds.
Well Go USA’s Blu-ray package certainly looks nice in its cover jacket, but don’t expect anything outside of a handful of trailers in terms of special features. The bare-bones physical media release makes this thing a hard sell when you can simply rent the title on VOD for a fraction of the price … which, to be clear, you definitely should.