First Love (★★★★)

Rated R, 108 minutes.

Opens Friday at the Angelika Film Center in Plano and Dallas.

First Love

Sakurako Konishi, left, and Masataka Kubota in “First Love.”

The Japanese-language romantic-thriller begins as one film and winds up becoming an After Hours-like blood fest. Go figure. It’s a Takashi Miike film, who gave us one of the unsettling and fun movies of all time with 1999’s Audition.

First Love opens up as a story about a young boxer named Leo (13 Assassins’ Masataka Kubota) who is well on his way to becoming the next great fighter. That’s until the world punches him in the gut with a fatal tumor diagnosis. With all hopes dashed, he plans to coast until his ultimate demise.

That’s when he meets Monica (Sakurako Konishi), a young woman whose life is a never-ending tragedy. She’s a drugged-out, hallucinogenic prisoner of prostitution. She’s forced to turn tricks by a couple caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme. Things get out of whack when Monica flees. Luckily, Leo intervenes and saves her.

The rest of the film is a Departed-esque crime film filled with characters double-crossing one another, insane complexity and laughter. First Love is a toned down Miike film, but the fun of his story will cause your heart to beat for it. Miike skillfully balances a tone that could have easily toppled over. He’s one of the most gifted filmmakers working today. He consistently keeps you on your toes and finds amusing ways to reconfigure familiar plotlines. And this is one you simply can’t pass up.

PRESTON BARTA is a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association. Read his work here, on and on Follow him on Twitter at @PrestonBarta.

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