‘First Love’ is the Latest Idiosyncratic Concoction From Takashi Miike

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CREDIT: Well Go USA/YouTube Screenshot

Starring: Masataka Kuboto, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Sakuro Konishi, Becky, Takahiro Miura

Director: Takashi Miike

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But Very Bloody Violent

Release Date: September 27, 2019 (Limited)

Vroom vroom! Bang pow fist! Slice and dice! Kswish thwack! Huh? Woozzzzy… Just keep moving, just keep moving…

In case you were confused, that opener was me attempting to recreate the series of feelings I witnessed onscreen and experienced myself while watching First Love, the latest from Japanese director Takashi Miike. If you’re familiar with the saying “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture,” perhaps you’re thinking that I am trying to prove that the same is true when it comes to writing about movies. And that may very well be the truth! There’s a good reason that most movie reviews don’t attempt to capture the feeling of watching the movie. The point is to articulate your reaction in another medium and allow readers a chance to think, “Hey, maybe I’ll have a similar reaction if I see it, too.” But in this case, I didn’t know what else to do, so I let the structure of my review melt away before our very eyes.

Here’s what I could make concrete sense out of First Love: a young boxer named Leo (Masataka Kuboto), who’s struggling to make his way up the sport, comes across Monica (Sakuro Konishi), who’s working as a prostitute to pay off her father’s debt and then finds herself caught up in a drug smuggling scheme. The two of them by chance team up and help each other escape the traps they’re stuck in. Hot on their tails are a motley mix that includes law enforcement, drug peddlers, and assassins. Also, Leo has a deadly brain tumor, the resolution of which is quite brain-rattling. Miike is known for toying around with genre tropes, so I was prepared for an offbeat approach. But for much of the runtime, I couldn’t really make clear-cut sense of what genre, or genre mix, he was riffing on. Eventually, though, that was no big deal. Once every thread was resolved in neat(-ish) order by the end, I knew that I had been on a kooky ride that I was happy to bump along to.

First Love is Recommended If You Like: Being confused while having fun

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Fortune Tellers

This Is a Movie Review: Takashi Miike Has a Bloody Good Time with ‘Blade of the Immortal’

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CREDIT: Magnet Releasing

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2017.

Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sōto Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara

Director: Takashi Miike

Running Time: 140 Minutes

Rating: R for Swordplay Between Hard-to-Kill Individuals, Which Means Extra-Extra Blood

Release Date: November 3, 2017 (Limited)

Blade of the Immortal is the latest feature from Takashi Miike, the legendary Japanese auteur behind cult classics like Audition and Ichi the Killer who has somehow managed to amass over 100 directing credits in a little under 30 years. Blade is my first exposure to a work by Miike, or perhaps it is more accurate to say, it is my first exposure to his work in full. The posters and DVD cover art for Audition and Ichi are equal parts entrancing and disturbing, enough to make you almost feel like you’ve experienced an entire movie just by sneaking a glance. Blade keeps things just as sensuously luscious, thoroughly maintaining Miike’s extreme reputation (he did direct a segment of the anthology film Three… Extremes, after all).

Miike takes quite naturally to the samurai genre, unsurprisingly reveling in a blood-soaked tale of vengeance. After the murder of her parents, Rin (Sugisaki) is out to track down the syndicate behind the killing. To help mete out her revenge, she partners up with Manji (Kimura), a local immortal samurai, who definitively considers his inability to die a curse. For all you comic book aficionados out there, he’s basically a Japanese Wolverine (which isn’t too hard to fathom considering Logan’s own occasional trips to Japan). Blade does not too get detailed in its thematic take on revenge, though it is worth noting that Rin believes there is a proper way to carry out the deed (one-on-one combat is preferable to an army massacring an individual).

The main purpose of watching Blade of the Immortal is to see how Miike indulges his gory appetite. And indeed, there is plenty of twisting of swords, splatter of blood, and hacking of limbs. Without getting too spoiler-iffic, a death at the end is absolutely perfectly explosively sanguinary. The mechanics of Manji’s self-healing are also memorable, driven as they are by so-called “bloodworms” residing in his circulatory system. It is worth noting that I was able to admire the many closeups of the bloodworms at work despite a personal history of physiologically involuntary squeamishness. But the strongest technical triumph is actually auditory. Every thud and thump on the jungle ground is mixed just so. At the end of the day, this is a movie that is just lovingly devoted to its craft.

Blade of the Immortal is Recommended If You Like: Samurai movies with maximum gore, Kill Bill, The Handmaiden

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bloodworms