First Love: TIFF 2019 Review — 9 Movies in 10 Days

Takashi Miike is a well-known, somewhat eccentric, Japanese director who has been making films for almost 30 years.  As are most Japanese exports, his films are bigger than the tiny island that they originate from.  He has quite a following in the Western world, most notably because of his attention to detail and his ability to tell interesting universal stories, in a visually stunning way.  He is most known for triumphs such as 1999’s Audition and 2010’s 13 Assassins.  This year, he brought his latest film, First Love to the world renowned TIFF Midnight Madness crowd.  Those who are keeping count know that this movie brings him very close to reaching the 100 mark in terms of those that bear his name as director.

First Love Review

First Love is a pre-Aladdin Guy Ritchie type of heist film in the fact that it has several players and occurs over the course of one night.  The two unlikely protagonists are a disaffected boxer who finds out early on that he has a tumour and only has weeks to live, and a drug-addicted woman who was forced into prostitution because of a debt owed by her father to a Yakuza gang.  Drugs, and drug money go missing.  These two get caught up in the middle of it along with other players like a Yakuza boss, corrupt and uncorrupt cops, a hilariously ambitious informant, a recently widowed woman who desperately needs to avenge her man’s death at any cost.

This movie has a bit of everything.  Each character is well-crafted and each one goes through a noted transformation amid all this violence, mayhem and terror.  Each one is tested and has to face their flaws at some point in the film.  While all of the supporting characters fight for survival and a better life, they are juxtaposed by the two protagonists (Leo & Monica) who question, based on their circumstances leading up to this night, if they even want to go on living.  Their only motivation throughout the film, to keep moving from one circumstance to the next, is each other, and they only met that night.

First Love Verdict

In First Love, there is a tenderness beautifully depicted between Leo and Monica that is established without a single sexual overtone.  This brings a depth to the movie that is unexpected in a film of this genre.  Essentially, they are two lost souls who find solace in one another without knowing a single thing about the other.  Amid all of the chaos and violence, all trivialities are stripped away, and nothing else matters but keeping the other one safe.  It makes one reflect on all the little things that we allow to get in the way of a genuine, raw feeling.

This film succeeds in appropriately peppering just the right amount of comedy, drama, romance, and violence throughout at what seems to be exactly the right times.  It’s almost as if Miike was a masterchef at a 5-star Michelin restaurant.  If you want to see an edge-of-your-seat shoot-em-up heist film with heart, this is the one for this year.


To read more reviews on TIFF, and JFL42 from Mobster, Curtis Morgan, just click here.

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