Film Review: First Love

Takashi Miike’s First Love is an incredibly fun action movie. The veteran filmmaker has not lost his touch.

Leo is a young boxer who is given a life-changing diagnosis. He bumps into Monica, who is running from someone. The pair are unwittingly caught in a drug smuggling scheme involving the Yakuza, the Chinese, and the police…

Directed by Takashi Miike and written by Masa Nakamura, First Love is an action thriller with a number of elements at play. Miike opens on a number of different sequences which introduce the main players separately. With a number of different strands, there may be a concern that the narrative will be confusing. Miike quickly allays these fears by joining some of the strands up in a succinct manner.

First Love focuses on varying elements trying to track down a drug shipment, and the pair who unwittingly get caught in the middle of proceedings. Miike and Nakamura give the main characters enough development for viewers to invest in the story. The screenplay offers plenty of laughs; Miike knows the interplay between ultraviolence and comedy. With Leo and Monica plating things straight, it is up to Kase and the supporting characters to give the film its humour.

Action in the film is intermittent. There are a number of sequences along the way, but Miike makes viewers wait until the finale for the pay off. The most memorable of the later fights are ones where humour is present amongst the violence. Given Miike’s previous films, some may hope for more from the fight choreography. Nevertheless, it is still a lot of fun. The finale of First Love obviously required a stunt beyond budget restrictions. Miike deals with this in an amusing way.

Masataka Kubota and Sakurako Konishi give decent performances as Leo and Monica. Nao Ohmori is also good, and Shôta Sometani is a standout as Kase. His performance becomes more outlandish as the film progresses, yet it feels entirely in keeping with the style of the film.

First Love is another winner from Takashi Miike. The film is entertaining throughout.

First Love is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

BFI London Film Festival 2019 Launch

This morning saw the launch of the BFI London Film Festival 2019. In its 63rd year, the festival is screening 229 feature films, including 28 world premieres. Here are some highlights from the festival programme…

Headline Galas

The opening and closing films for the BFI London Film Festival 2019 had already been announced. The festival opens with the European premiere of Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield. An adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, the film stars Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, and Hugh Laurie. Martin Scorsese‘s hotly-anticipated The Irishman closes the festival. There is an embarrassment of riches among the other headline galas, including Rian Johnson’s Knives Out, Marielle Heller’s (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, and Michael Winterbottom’s Greed, starring Steve Coogan and Isla Fisher.

Strand Galas and Special Presentations

This year, films screening as part of the Strand Galas include Robert Eggers’ (The Witch) The Lighthouse, starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. The Dare Gala is Mirrah Folks’ debut feature Judy & Punch, a fairy tale starring Mia Wasikowska. Among the Special Presentations are Takashi Miike’s First Love, and Bombay Rose, a hand-drawn animated feature from Gitanjali Rao.

Official Competition

Among the ten features in Official Competition at the London Film Festival 2019 are Haifaa Al-Mansour’s (Wadjda) The Perfect Candidate, about a young doctor who challenges Saudi Arabia’s strict social codes. Thomas Clay’s Fanny Lye Deliver’d stars Maxine Peake and Charles Dance, and is about a woman living with her puritanical husband in 17th century Shropshire. The Documentary Competition features Rubika Shah’s White Riot, about the Rock Against Racism movement, and Lauren Greenfield The Kingmaker, which focuses on Imelda Marcos. The First Feature Competition includes Joe Talbot’s The Last Black Man in San Francisco and Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, a drama starring Eliza Scanlon and Ben Mendelsohn.

Strands

The eleven thematic programme strands are back once more at the London Film Festival 2019. The Love strand includes La Belle Époque, Nicolas Bedos’ drama about an illustrator who uses technology to replay the past, and Ga-young Jeong’s Heart. The Debate strand is particularly strong this year with Citizen K (Alex Gibney‘s documentary on Mikhail Khodorkovsky), Chinonye Chukwu’s Sundance winner Clemency, Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life, and Scott Z Burns’ The Report, starring Adam Driver. Comedies in the Laugh strand includes Billie Piper’s directorial debut Rare Beasts, whilst Wash Westmoreland’s Earthquake Bird in the Thrill strand stars Alicia Vikander in an 1980s Tokyo-set thriller. Cannes winner The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão is among the films in the Journey category.

The Dare strand features animated coming-of-age tale I Lost My Body and Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird, about a Jewish boy on a journey home during wartime. The Cult strand includes Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s The Lodge and Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium, with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots. Also in this category is Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space, a HP Lovecraft adaptation starring Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. The Experimenta strand includes Brad Butler and Noorafshan Mizra’s Ruptures, whilst Create includes Midge Costin’s documentary Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound. Two highlights of the Family strand are Edmunds Jansons’ Jacob, Mimmi and the Talking Dogs and Lorenzo Mattotti’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion. Finally, classics that are showing as part of the Treasures programme include David Lynch’s The Elephant Man and Roger Corman’s The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price.

The BFI London Film Festival 2019 runs from 2nd-13th October. The full programme can be viewed here.

Film Review: Blade of the Immortal

Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal has the odd moment of flair, but this does not save it from its plodding pace.

After seeking revenge for his sister, injured warrior Manji is cursed with immortal life. Years later, a young girl asks Manji to help her  in her quest to find those who killed her family…

The classic revenge narrative is given a supernatural twist in this Samurai film, based on a manga series. Blade of the Immortal sets the scene with a black and white, ultra violent opening gambit. It then settles into a more natural pace, as the main narrative is introduced.

The story is a quintessential one, yet it is difficult to get behind the protagonists. Rin is introduced fairly quickly. Although it is clear why she wishes to avenge her family, the character is not developed sufficiently for the audience to fully empathise with her. Likewise, Manji is understandably weary, yet there is little else to his character.

The various subplots that are introduced as the film progresses weigh momentum down. Whilst they give the protagonists additional foes, these additional characters hinder pacing too much. In the second half of the film in particular, it simply takes too long to reach the climax. This renders the extended final action scene feel more listless than energetic.

Revenge is main theme in Blade of the Immortal, but the supernatural aspect gives rise to the additional subject of world-weariness. This becomes a driving force within Manji. The moments of humour are welcome. Costumes in the film are good, as is the fight choreography.

Hana Sugisaki’s Rin is annoying at times; the high-pitched squeals could have been toned down. Takuya Kimora delivers suitable performance whilst it would have been great to see more of Yôko Yamamoto.

Blade of the Immortal has some good moments, but its leaden pacing undermines overall enjoyment.

Blade of the Immortal is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

Film Review: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

A remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is engrossing throughout. The 2011 film is a slow-burner with depth.

The early seventeenth-century Japan is a time of peace, leaving many samurai warriors without work. A warrior arrives at prestigious samurai house, wishing to commit ritual suicide as he cannot take the shame of being poverty-stricken. He is told a cautionary tale of a young man who arrived there two months ago, claiming to have the same intentions…

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is a fascinating exploration of the notions of honour and ritual suicide. The story retains the viewer’s attention throughout. As the narrative unfolds through flashbacks, it is clear where the story is heading. Nevertheless, it is crafted in a fashion that reels viewers in.

Takashi Miike’s direction is measured throughout Hara-Kiri. The cinematography and art direction is fantastic. There is a beautful contrast between the mostly monochromatic shades and the vibrant reds of the leaves. The sets, costumes and props all appear authentic for the film’s period setting.

Hara-Kiri is most suited to the drama category, despite its themes. The film features one of the most brutal death scenes in recent memory, yet for the most part the violence is restrained. Hara-Kiri is an unusual film to be screened in 3D. Although this adds depth, the darkness wearing the glasses causes is not worth the trade off. The film would be best viewed in 2D.

Hara-Kiri is a well-crafted film which places more emphasis on perspective and dialogue rather than action. A worthwhile watch.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.