Unpredictable and prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike returns with a story of two outlaws on the run from the Yakuza, Chinese gangster, and corrupt police officials in an entertaining amalgamate of violence, comedy and action.
Masataka Kubota plays the young boxer who rescues a forced sex worker (Sakurako Konishi) from her captors just after being diagnosed with brain cancer. The Tarantino-esque feature takes place over one night in Tokyo bringing together a mishmash of lively characters who converge in the film’s bloody climax.
Leo (Kubota) is a laid-back boxer who refuses to celebrate his victories much to the dismay of his energetic trainer who scolds him for not yelling, “I won” at the end of the match or for his reluctance to get into a boxer pose for photographers. A backstory of the 20-ish Leo explains how he was abandoned by his parents as a child and, with nobody special in his life, it’s easy to see how a victory in the ring may not be significant when you don’t have anyone to celebrate with.
Yuri (Sakurako Konishi) is the innocent daughter of a deadbeat dad who sold her to the Yakuza to pay off a debt. Forced into prostitution by the Japanese crime syndicate that keeps her drugged up, Yuri is handled by Julie (Becky Rabone) the Yakuza girlfriend who becomes a crowbar-wielding avenger after her boyfriend is killed in a kidnapping-gone-wrong scheme.
The pulp fiction story written by Masaru Nakamura (“The Bird People in China”) is filled with plenty of memorable characters including the wet-behind-the-ears Kase (Shota Sometani), an eager Yakuza who involves a corrupt police officer, Otomo (Nao Omori), in a botched drug scheme that ignites a turf war with the Chinese Triads led by One-Armed Wang who wields a pump shotgun better than people with two arms.
The film begins with Leo taking a tumble in a ring, which he feels is not the result of a lucky punch.
A visit to the doctor confirms that the young boxer has a brain tumor that’s inoperable. The prognosis gives Leo an I don’t give a f--k attitude, leading to some careless decisions.
When he first sees Yuri, she is being chased by her captor down the bustling sidewalks of the neon-lit Tokyo. With a quick punch to the face, Leo knocks out her antagonist and the two make a run for it. He learns Yuri’s backstory and takes it upon himself to keep her out of harm’s way and out of the hands of both the Yakuza and the Triads. A brave move by Leo, but the terminally ill boxer feels at this point he has nothing to lose.
If I’m counting correctly, this is Miike’s 103rd feature. The Japanese auteur shows no signs of slowing down with the spirited “First Love,” which features a first-rate cast, dynamic action, slapstick comedy and a cool animated sequence late in the film. Think “Kill Bill” meets “Baby Driver” as this carnage of chaos proves to be wildly entertaining.