His latest, First Love, debuted at this year’s Midnight Madness bracket at the Toronto International Film Festival, follows a young boxer named Leo (Masataka Kubota) who wanders into a bubbling conflict between the Yakuza and the Chinese Triads after his doctor finds a life-threatening brain tumor when he falls due to a weak punch during a boxing match. The plan to rob drugs from a high-profile, yakuza-affiliated dealer turns dire when Leo instinctively punctures Otomo and save a young, drug-addicted prostitute named Monica (Sakurako Konishi) an then the two set out to find a place to hide. That scratches the surface barely; we don’t even get into the mostly naked dancing ghost and the stuffed animal-like bomb.
It’s not all weapons or swords and spatters of blood, though all this is the signature of Miike. One of his latest movies, Blade of the Immortal, is about a cursed samurai with worms in his blood that keep him alive through a sequence of ever-glorious fights with frightening enemies wearing ever more complicated guns. His infamous Ichi the Killer, a mentally ill assassin forced to assassinate members of rival yakuza gangs, was banned in several nations for his graphic cruelty. His work doesn’t always feature violence — he stated during our interview that he also produced a cartoon for Japanese children on Sunday morning about fighting bad people with kindness — but over his nearly 30-year career he’s gotten nice about it. One of the craziest visual jokes of First Love features a personality powered by multiple gunshots by rubbing cocaine into his wounds, and the ultimate action-heavy setpiece is a shootout between the yakuza and the triads in a hardware store. Most protagonists run around with handguns — minus the one-armed Triad renowned for shotgun killing — while two of them face off with swords.