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Review: Gangster film 'First Love' finds humanity amid chaos

Latest from Takashi Miike goes over-the-top but manages to find its center

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A boxer with a brain tumor, a prostitute repaying her father's debt to the Yakuza, crooked cops, double-crossing gangsters and enough firepower to light up Tokyo collide in "First Love," a madcap comic-action frenzy that could only come from notorious Japanese bad boy filmmaker Takashi Miike.

Here, Miike's thirst for ultraviolence is set against a comedic backdrop that heightens the absurdity of the Yakuza shenanigans at its core. He's covered this ground before, as have many others before him, so why not at least acknowledge it and laugh at it (and still keep the beheadings rolling, of course).  

Sakurako Konishi & Masataka Kubota in "First Love."

Leo (Masataka Kubota) is a promising young fighter, abandoned by his parents when he was young, who faints in the middle of a boxing match. A trip to the doctor confirms a grim diagnosis: he has a tumor in his brain, and doesn't have long to live. 

Dejected and with little to lose, he interferes when he sees a woman, Monica (Sakurako Konishi), being chased down a street at night. He knocks out the man running after her, a cop (Nao Ohmori), and steals his badge. What he doesn't realize is he's just inserted himself into a brewing war between rival gangs and the police, and it's too late to turn back. 

Miike knows the crime-ridden underworld well, and fills his story with crazed one-arm killers, colorful gangsters and wild action. The story builds to an explosive showdown inside a hardware store that Miike literally animates his characters' way out of, but "First Love" resonates because the director and screenwriter Masa Nakamura have more on their minds than just carnage. They bring the story back to its human core, and find the beating heart at the center of all the bloodshed. 

'First Love'


Not rated: Extreme violence, language, gore, sexual situations

Running time: 108 minutes