scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Movie Review

In ‘First Love,’ double-crossing Japanese gangsters is a laughing matter

Sakurako Konishi (left) and Masataka Kubota in “First Love.” Well Go USA Entertainment

How unusual is Takashi Miike’s very deceptively titled “First Love”? The wildly prolific director of “13 Assassins” (2010) and “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” (2011) wastes little time letting viewers know. A young boxer, Leo (Masataka Kubota), has a big bout. He lands a punch on his opponent’s head. Cut to a head rolling out into the street. Whoa, that was some punch. Wait, it’s a different head. Its bodiless state comes courtesy of yakuza vengeance.

So expect the upending of expectations: visual, emotional, tonal, generic. Especially generic. Is “First Love” a comedy? A crime thriller? A love story? An advertorial for subscriptions to Guns and Ammo?



“Morning light doesn’t suit the wicked,” a character says (with a straight face, no less), and until its final few minutes “First Love” takes place over the course of a very complicated night in Tokyo. Beside boxing and yakuza, contributors to that complicatedness include: a rival Chinese gang, a crooked cop, a dire MRI result, a surprisingly capable fortune teller, a drug deal, a double cross, an inopportune (though very funny) leg cramp, two samurai swords, a one-armed man who carries a shotgun (well, all right, he doesn’t just carry it), a very brief animated segment, and a recurring hallucination that takes the form of a middle-aged man who’s naked except for a pair of white briefs — and eyeglasses.

The hallucination is experienced by Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a winningly innocent call girl and junkie. Through no fault of her own, she becomes the pivotal figure in the drug deal. Her damsel-in-distress status introduces her to Leo. It’s also where the love story, such as it is, comes into the picture. Monica and Leo run afoul of Kase, the not very masterful mastermind of the double cross. As played by Shôta Sometani, Kase is a greedy, slightly demented terrier: a horror to contemplate and joy to watch. You’d say he steals the show, except that Miike retains complete ownership.


“First Love” has a hyper-real nocturnal gleam that makes all this highly mannered action seem even more comic or ridiculous, as the mood takes you. Or maybe both. Sometimes when you laugh, you might find yourself looking over your shoulder. Other times, you might find yourself wanting to look over Miike’s shoulder. But his direction is so visually assured it almost doesn’t matter. Almost. “Don’t get blood on my pants!” a particularly ill-used young woman rages at the crooked cop. In the end, it’s style that matters here to the exclusion of pretty much all else, and style “First Love” has.

★ ★ ½

Directed by Takashi Miike. Written by Masa Nakamura. Starring Masataka Kubota, Sakurako Konishi, Shôta Sometani. At Kendall Square. 108 minutes. Unrated (as R: violence, lots and lots of violence). In Japanese, with subtitles.

Mark Feeney can be reached at