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Outside the box: Takashi Miike’s latest film 'First Love' explores the greys

The celebrated Japanese film-maker discusses his later thriller, which had its Indian premiere at the 50th edition of IFFI

Before the Indian premiere of First Love at the 50th International Film Festival of India, celebrated Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, walked on-stage and introduced his latest film as “a kind movie”. What followed was a nearly two-hour-long thriller, packed with classic Miike-style violence — including decapitations and samurai swords — and oodles of dark humour, prompting me to ask: where is the kindness? Mr. Miike said in Japanese via a translator, “Ultimately, violence is an expression of love.”

In a short interview with The Hindu, the 59-year-old film-maker said, “Where there is love, there is a possibility of violence but it’s not that love is connected to violence but there’s a possibility.” Taking place overnight in Tokyo, the film revolves around the rather fragile relationship between a young boxer, who believes he is terminally ill, and a drug-fuelled sex worker, who hallucinates about her torturous father. The two find themselves in a drug-smuggling racket, battling the police, assassins and a lot of bad luck.

Receiving thunderous applause and whistles in a packed Kala Academy, First Love, concluded a five-film tribute to Mr. Miike, the festival’s ‘director in focus’ this year. The retrospective included Ichi the Killer (2001), Audition (1999), Dead or Alive (1999) and 13 Assassins (2010).

With First Love, Mr. Miike sought out to revisit the yakuza gangs, whose stories have formed a sub-genre of gangster films in Japan. “They exist in the society, and it’s not that they are bad people but they are also not good,” said Mr. Miike. Caught in the web of yakuza are three unsuspecting characters — boxer Leo, sex worker Monica and Julie, a woman seeking revenge for her slain pimp boyfriend. Laced with humour, the chase in the film, often resulting in bloodshed, is sharp and flavoursome.

Does the filmmaker intend to generate catharsis among his audience through violence, as is the case with his characters? “When you see the violence of Hollywood movies, there is a tendency that the hero is combating and confronting many people, without much harm to himself,” says Mr. Miike. “But in my films, the hero takes a lot of hits so the very act of the hero being the one on the receiving end, makes the audience cheer and connect with him.”

Bending genres

With a vast repertoire of over 100 films, the auteur has tried his hand at everything from horror, gore, action, family drama to even musicals. But he prefers to abstain from labelling his own films. “It’s the audience or the media who classify it in a certain genre but for me, I’m just making a movie,” explained Mr. Miike. At present, he is working on a Japanese television drama, which airs on Sunday mornings and is catered towards girls, as young as three. “It shows women as heroes, and it shows that I can go beyond violence,” he said.

Interestingly, the female characters in First Love, Julia and Monica, are complete opposites of each other. While one is strong and vengeful, the other is docile and traumatised. Mr. Miike informed that the two actresses essaying the roles have a lot in common with their characters. “The first one (Sakurako Konishi) is more naive and feels nervous, like a fish out of water and the other one (Becky) is a veteran at life… she broke up with musician Enon Kawatani two years before our film, which was a big scandal and she couldn’t find any work,” informed Mr. Miike.

For all those, like Becky, who are embarking or re-starting their lives, as filmmakers or actors, Mr. Miike has only one piece of advice: “Live life before making movies, because you cannot make films about life, without having lived one.”

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 10:09:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/outside-the-box-takashi-miikes-latest-film-first-love-explores-the-greys/article30099793.ece

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