First Love

Director: Yukinari Hanawa
Year: 2006
Length: 114 minutes

In 1968 a daring daylight robbery occurred in which the robbers got away with 300 million yen. No one was hurt. None of the money was ever spent. The crime was never solved and it is still the biggest unsolved theft in Japanese history. Unsolved that is until a few years ago when a woman, Misuzu Nakahara, published a book that claimed that she was involved in the crime and this was how it occurred. The statue of limitations was well past. This film is based on her account.

Misuzu (played by Aoi Miyazaki – the cute Nana in “Nana”) is a melancholy and withdrawn high school student who was deposited by her mother with some uncaring relatives. The mother did however take Misuzu’s brother Ryo (real life brother Masaru Miyazaki) to live with thus making Misuzu feel all the more unwanted. One day her brother visits her to say hello but warns her to stay away from his hangout called “The B”, a bohemian jazz club where all its patrons lie about like languorous cushions trying to be hip and cool. Of course Misuzu can’t stay away and begins to hang out with Ryo and his assorted hipster friends, but rarely has much to say. This was a period of student protest in Japan and some of this group are caught up in a demonstration and badly beaten by the police. Ryo’s friend, Kishi (Keisuke Koide) decides to make a political statement and so approaches Misuzu with a plan to steal a payment shipment of a large corporation. She has a crush on him and so accepts.

One keeps expecting the film to gather some momentum and to create some sparks, but it never really does. It all plays out in slow motion desultory fashion with little to no flair or panache. It tells the story by the numbers and none of the characters seem more than types – the playboy, the funny one, the radical. Even the robbery creates little tension and the aftermath of it meanders for much too long. Aoi Miyazaki who was so adorable and sympathetic in “Nana” is a blank slate here with a personality so recessive that it is almost invisible – though in truth she is still a pleasure to watch. For a nostalgic film about first love and robbery, it manages to be neither romantic nor exciting – not an easy task to accomplish and usually the sort of thing that Japanese films of late seem to have mastered.

My rating of the film: 5.5