First Love

First Love


Reviewed by: Sarah Artt

First Love is a first person account of a now famous robbery that took place in Japan in 1968: on December 10th, 3 million yen was stolen from a bank car. No one was harmed and none of the money has ever passed into circulation. This film is based on what many view as the author Misuzu Nakahra's autobiographical account of her involvement in this robbery when she was a teenager.

The story begins in 1966 with Misuzu (played by the luminous Masaru Miyazaki), a lonely sixteen year old who lives with her indifferent relatives. Overlooked by her aunt and uncle, Misuzu wanders the streets freely at night. One evening, she is drawn to “the B” a rundown jazz bar that serves as the headquarters for a group of bohemian hipsters: Tetsu—the thug, Yuka—the actress, Yasu—the joker, Ryo—the ladies' man, Takeshi—the political agitator and aspiring writer, and Kishi—the quiet loner. Eager to be one of them but painfully shy, Misuzu blurts out her motto “ I don't want to be an adult” and rushes off. Because of her reluctance to grow up, the group slowly begin to accept her presence, but it is Kishi who eventually draws Misuzu out of her shell. One day in 1967 he stumbles upon Misuzu quietly pressing her cheek up against the gas tank of a parked motorcycle. When he offers to teach her to ride, Misuzu excitedly accepts. She is dissapointed when Kishi introduces her to his bike mechanic, but she does indeed learn to ride a motorcycle and looks incredibly cool while doing so.

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Once 1968 hits, the friends (except Misuzu) stumble onto a political demonstration and are viciously beaten by the police, an event which polarises and separates the group of friends: Takeshi joins a radical political group, Yuka leaves the city and returns to her parents house. Kishi decides to take action in another way, by planning the elaborate heist that became known as the 3 Million Yen Affair. In order to execute his plan, he quietly recruits Misuzu, whose skill on a motorcycle becomes a crucial component of the heist. After months of meticulous planning, December 10th arrives. The heist itself, since it involves neither high speed nor violence, is strangely calm. Misuzu believes that successfully pulling off the heist will somehow change her life for the better. Aside from the money, there is an urgency to her performance during the heist that implies a desire to be noticed rather than overlooked. Yet, her actions during the heist depend on her anonymity. On the day of the heist, Kishi writes Misuzu a note that reads “only partners in crime share eternal secrets”, a phrase that initially stirs in her a wild feeling of romance. But the phrase goes on to resonate in more painful ways for both Kishi and Misuzu in the aftermath of the heist.

Similar in feel to Jun Ichikawa's Tony Takitani (2004) First Love is filled with masterful, understated performances; the film also vividly captures the feeling of subcultural anxiety in 1960s Japan. Alongside this, there are also some wonderfully observed humourous moments, for example when the miniskirt hits Tokyo in 1967, Ryo and a friend spend much of their day watching girls go up and down stairs as they fervently mutter “thank you Twiggy!” First Love is an hypnotically beautiful film about misguided youth and the desire to change one's life through extraordinary events.

Reviewed on: 07 Sep 2006
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A teenaged girl becomes involved in a spectacular bank robbery.

Director: Yukinari Hanawa

Writer: Yukinari Hanawa, based on the novel by Misuzu Nakahara

Starring: Keisuke Koide, Aoi Miyazaki, Masaru Miyazaki, Rena Komine, Yu Emoto

Year: 2006

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: Japan


EIFF 2006

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