First Love review – a bloody slice of Tokyo pulp fiction

First Love review – a bloody slice of Tokyo pulp fiction. Director Takashi Miike plays to his strengths in a flamboyantly violent boy-meets-girl crime caper

Less than three minutes into Takashi Miike’s First Love, a severed head rolls into an alleyway, eyes wide open and blinking in shock. Eye-popping is one way to describe the prolific Japanese director’s 103rd film, a cheerfully pulpy Tokyo-set noir.

Leo (Masataka Kubota) is a boxer, hunkily brooding and ambivalent in an Alain Delon in Rocco and His Brothers kind of way (or maybe, with his red jacket, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause). He has unfulfilled potential, with little to live for – until he runs headfirst into damsel in distress Yuri, aka Monica (Sakurako Konishi), an addict and sex worker on the run from the mob.

On their tail is the enraged girlfriend of Yuri’s now-dead pimp (Becky Rabone, in a gleeful and deranged riff on the gangster’s moll), as well as a comical, coked-up yakuza named Kase (Shōta Sometani). There’s also the ghost of Yuri’s abusive father, who appears at inopportune moments wrapped in a large white sheet.

Kôji Endô’s thundering jazz-rock score amplifies Miike’s tendency towards playful cartoon excess. A seemingly benign mechanical puppy triggers an explosion. In another adrenaline-fuelled scene, the action literally explodes into an anime sequence in homage to the elderly Japanese stuntmen whose blockbuster car chases Miike was inspired by. These tonal swerves temper some of the more flamboyant violence.