Vampire Owl: This is quite an interesting title for the first Japanese movie that we are going to watch. More power to Asian movies after Korean and Chinese.
Vampire Bat: That would actually be Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.
Vampire Owl: What was that one all about?
Vampire Bat: It has the grand tale of William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Macbeth, shining bright in a different form here.
Vampire Owl: So, we have had another adaptation of Macbeth. This should connect to the Japanese setting, right?
Vampire Bat: Yes, it moves from Medieval Scotland to feudal Japan, and becomes a special classic in itself.
Vampire Owl: I have heard that there were some great Japanese movies during those times.
Vampire Bat: Yes, you know that Akira Kurosawa is considered to be one of the biggest names in world cinema.
Vampire Owl: I remember reading about that quite well.
Vampire Bat: Let us get back to this movie which won’t be the first Japanese film I watched, but it will surely be the first Japanese flick to be revealed on this site. Take that Polaroid camera too, let’s take some photos.
[Gets a blueberry cake and three cups of iced tea].
What is the movie about? :: Leo Katsuragi (Masataka Kubota) works at a popular Chinese restaurant in Kabukicho suburb of Tokyo city, which happens to be an entertainment and red-light district in Japan’s busy prefecture. Abandoned as a child, and with nobody to care for, he lives his life all for himself, while participating in local fights as a boxer – supposed to be one of the best young rising boxers and the future of Japan’s boxing talents. But that changes after losing a match, getting knocked down by a weaker punch from a comparatively weaker opponent, much to the dismay of himself and his supporters among the crowd. As Leo visited the hospital, he is told by the doctor there that he has an advanced tumor in her head, and even a treatment might not lead to recovery, making him sure that he is going to die soon enough. With nobody to take care of him, and no hope for future, he just wanders around the city, abusing the fortune-teller who predicts for him a very long life, and no more loneliness.
So, what happens with the events here? :: The city has many groups of transnational organized crime syndicates going strong, and the most powerful of them is yakuza, a mafia-like criminal organization. A corrupt police officer Otomo (Nao Omori) and a yakuza member Kase (Shota Sometani) has a special plan to outsmart the gangsters as well as the police. It is into this plan that a young girl Yuri (Sakurako Konishi) enters. She is sold in prostitution to pay her father’s heavy debts by the call girl name of Monica, and is trapped by a yakuza named Yasu (Takahiro Miura) and his girlfriend Julie (Rebecca Eri Rabone) The two intended to make use of the beautiful young girl for adding further profit to their drug business, making Yuri herself a drug addict. One day, when Otomo is going through his plan, making Yuri also a part of it, she runs away from him hallucinating, and is saved by Leo who knocks him out with a punch. This leads to a butterfly effect which changes everything – the question remains about who all will survive now!
The defence of First Love :: Even though doubts were there in the beginning, First Love is not just focusing on the crime action thrills, as it chooses for fine performances mostly from its protagonists, and then from the rest of the cast. When it is into action, it is furious, but in a believable way, and there are heads rolling for sure. There is no overdose of action though, with flying bodies like in some of those dumb Bollywood movies from the past, and maybe even present. Those were the movies when common men suddenly became super-powered Avenger-kind of people, but here, they have the fights going more realistic, and there is a limit set to the violence too, and that comes as a surprise considering the kind of theme this movie is dealing with. It also leaves some some positive messages with the tale of the two main characters finding hope and life – there is also some fine feel-good factor coming into the play in the end, at it is indeed a lovely ending for a movie which seemed so dark, but not without some humour.
The claws of flaw :: If you are expecting full blood and gore in this movie considering how it began with the gangsters, you are not going to get that. First Love also takes some time to get into its action, and does need time to become interesting. The inciting incident comes a little late for a movie like this. There are some animated sequences, which though do look good, but adds nothing to the movie which should have continued its usual style. You are also going to find a few things being repeated here, which is quite natural for this genre. There can also be a problem with identifying the characters in the beginning, because there are too many of them, and they are all coming and talking about one thing and the other – after all, most of us are people who got not much of an information about these criminal groups and gangsters. The gangs like triads and yakuza are not known to most of our audience in this part of the world, and took me quite some time to figure things out in the early stages of the movie.
Performers of the soul :: The performances start here with Masataka Kubota who plays the young boxer in a very much believable manner, as he moves from solitude to finding someone he could help before he might die. We can see the change in him, and there is no superhuman fights being done by him, as everything stays within the perfect limits. Sakurako Konishi, from her first appearance also becomes the bright spot of the movie, as she also undergoes an evolution which is bigger than that of the main hero. It is her coming-of-age story, the bildungsroman that changes her from the hopeless drug addict and prostitute which she has been since childhood, and we see the smile out of happiness for the first time inside Tokyo metro, and that is the sign of the change which is to come, which she does in a brilliant way. Rebecca Eri Rabone a.k.a. Becky is the other female actress who scores high, as she also gets her dose of action. Nao Omori and Shota Sometani are two others who are more into action nicely. The other actors are usual, and does their jobs naturally in the crime thriller made out of action sequences.
How it finishes :: There is plenty of action going on in First Love, and there will be blood and gore even though not to that very high level – do not be fooled by the name of the movie, because except for some slight, indirect romance which is always there, this has nothing to do with love, except for maybe love for fellow humans as said in the religious texts. Along with all the action and thrilling moments, the movie also provides that message, not to live just for you as a selfish human being and to use the skills for helping others, thus finding meaning and hope in life, not just for you, but also for those people whose lives will undergo some fine changes with your help. The whole thing remains stylish and cool, with the viewers having a very satisfying experience, as the movie never really steps back in its quality since the action gets incited. First Love is one Japanese movie which you can add to your list of foreign regional flicks that need to be watched.
Release date: 17th May 2019
Running time: 108 minutes
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Starring: Masataka Kubota, Sakurako Konishi, Rebecca Eri Rabone, Maimi Yajima, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Takahiro Miura, Mami Fujioka, Yen Cheng-kuo, Duan Chun-hao, Masayuki Deai, Jun Murakami, Kenichi Takitoh, Bengal, Sansei Shiomi, Seiyo Uchino
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@ Cemetery Watch
✠ The Vampire Bat.
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