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film review

Takashi Miike's First Love follows young boxer Leo as he meets Monica, a callgirl and an addict running from the Tokyo underworld.Courtesy of TIFF

  • First Love
  • Directed by Takashi Miike
  • Written by Masa Nakamura
  • Starring Sakurako Konishi, Shota Sometani and Masataka Kubota
  • Classification 14A
  • 108 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

No one forgets their first Takashi Miike movie. And depending on your vintage, it could be any one of the Japanese filmmaker’s 100-plus productions. I recall mine with a queasy mixture of excitement and revulsion: It was at the 2001 Toronto International Film Festival world premiere of Ichi the Killer, and the complimentary vomit bags handed out before the screening were on-point (if, at least in my case, unused).

I’m not sure how to prepare moviegoers, though, who might make First Love their first Miike experience – the new film is overloaded with characters, takes its time to rev up and is sweeter than the filmmaker’s excessive reputation might suggest. But in another way, it acts as an ideal gateway drug to the rest of Miike’s filmography, a fine mixture of Yakuza warfare and sloppy humour, with enough outré set-pieces to satisfy the curious and enough warmth to counterbalance the gore.

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Miike takes a simple set-up (boy meets girl) and then makes it absurdly complicated (boy is a boxer with a brain tumour and girl is a drug-addicted prostitute running from the Tokyo underworld), which means half the fun is in figuring out who wants to kill whom and why, if that is indeed your idea of fun (guilty).

Although Miike is working with his long-time screenwriter Masa Nakamura (the ambitious but faulty Sukiyaki Western Django and the very weird and very excellent Dead or Alive 2: Birds), First Love is neither a return to form for Miike nor is it a groundbreaking new leap into the unknown. The film rests instead in the mushy, bloody Miike middle – a pleasant diversion for the director’s faithful fans and an easy-ish entry for those eager to jump on the man’s over-the-top-is-not-good-enough wavelength. Your Miike mileage may vary – but rest assured, there’s no barf bag required.

First Love opens Oct. 4 at the TIFF Lightbox in Toronto (tiff.net)

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