Monday, January 26, 2009

[DVD] First Love (初恋 / Hatsukoi) (2006)

Let's Do It

Based on the "autobiography" of Misuzu Nakahara, I won't deny that what intrigued me to picking up this DVD was its premise of having it set against Japan's single largest heist to date, where 300 million yen (back in the 60s) was stolen in broad daylight without a loss of life. I've always enjoyed heist movies, though First Love may not be a title that one will automatically associate with a crime. Robbery under audacious circumstances, and one that's based on an historical incident, what's there not to like?

Alas the film decided to mash too much into a movie, what with troubled, idle and idealistic teenagers thrown into the mix to bloat the running time, and a romance that just wasn't. This is no Bonnie and Clyde, and we see how a lonely teenager in search of belonging, get sucked into a group of riotous teens, only to have director Yukinari Hanawa decide to summarize their group dynamics for the aforementioned robbery because the teenagers are getting quite a handful to manage, especially when they do not have much personality to begin with, and have little to show for except to get into fights and having sex.

Aoi Miyazaki stars as Misuzu, the character supposedly based on the writer's real life, or so she claimed. Living with relatives, she soon finds herself gravitating toward a bunch of youths based at the B Jazz Bar, and in a strange initiation rite, gets accepted by the group, led by Ryo (played by Aoi Miyazaki's real life brother Masaru). However, she's still the loner and the quiet one within the gang, and is in contrast to the plenty of empty vessels who make a lot of noise in the group, seeking attention where it's not wanted, especially with the authorities who don't hesitate to use violence on any group of rioting teens.

After a series of slow, emo-inducing scenes where she plays observer, the pace starts to pick up when fellow loner Kishi (Keisuke Koide, of Cyborg, She) begins to put his plan into action. He's quite the patient fellow, in planning way ahead into the future, starting with hooking Misuzu up with an elderly man at a motorcycle shop, in order to teach her how to ride. After successful competency, he drops the bombshell, that she is to help him in his planned heist, and takes her on a recce. It's an extremely simple mission, so simple that it borders on the absurd, like taking candy from the hands of a toddler, without the need for brute force or sophisticated equipment.

It takes some 50 minutes to get to this point, before we get to see Murphy's Law get exacted, and then unfortunately Hanawa's shortcomings to have this wrapped up also got exposed. The film never knew just how to end, and again, plodded along its way to the finale which is quite lacklustre, before decided to stick to the tried and tested. I felt that some 30 minutes could have been shaved off its running time, and the focus put back into the relationship between Misuzu and Kishi.

Since the title both in Chinese and English suggested that hint of romance, that angle could have been explored to more depth. After all, having it all come crashing down with realization in the last 10 minutes doesn't quite cut in, and in so verbatim methods too. It's a bit like a cheat sheet, because all the while both Aoi Miyazaki and Keisuke Koide both played their friendship in very platonic terms. From the angle of the heist and why one would say yes, it wasn't because she was doing it for someone she liked, but rather to repay the attention and acknowledgement given to her, from someone who dished it out in loads. It's more of a lonely person afraid of being cast aside, that she decided to say yes to committing a crime. Not to mention too that she had pretty good cover to shield herself from the potentially massive investigations to follow.

Aftter the statutes of limitations was issued, there still wasn't anyone who owned up to the crime, and I guess Misuzu Nakaharra had capitalized on this to release her so-called autobiography claiming her involvement in the infamous crime. Naturally this incident has become stuff of dramas and movies such as First Love, but this one somehow fell a little bit short in not being able to fully craft itself from a more compelling story. Nothing fancy here, but it somehow worked to a certain degree.

Code 3 DVD by CN Entertainment Ltd is presented in anamorphic widescreen transfer in its original Japanese language track in Dolby Stereo 2.0. Scene selection is available over 12 chapters and comes with English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese subtitles. There is no extras included.

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