‘First Love’ Review: A Gentle Japanese Love Story

Japanese TV series, books, and films, even video games, are a territory full of extremes. These mediums can be full of hardcore violence and endless perversions, but they can also be extremely gentle and sweet. Like no other creators, the Japanese can move between these extremes in the most efficient of ways, creating stories that are memorable because they manage to hit almost every single level of emotion in human beings. First Love is a new romance TV show available on Netflix that goes into the more gentle side of Japanese entertainment.

The series is written and directed by Yuri Kachiku, and stars Hikari Matsushima, Takeru Satoh, Rikako Yagi, and Tasei Kido. The series tells the story of Yae, and Namiki, two lovers who met while in high school. The two teenagers profess their love for one another, but they ended up becoming separated by their life choices. Now in the present, they are fully grown adults, but fate seems to be pushing for the both of them to get together once again and have a new opportunity to make their dreams come true.

Yuti Kachiku writes and directs each of the episodes, and this results in a TV series that feels not only consistent between each episode but that also feels like a single vision realized on the screen. Filmmaking is a collaborative process, but more often than not, the most interesting and compelling films are the result of a team of filmmakers pouring their efforts into realizing the vision of a single author. These projects feel more personal and nuanced than many of the things that can be done by a committee.

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So, from the first moments of First Love, you can feel that someone is really in control of what is being shown on screen. The story is an epic love story that goes through many years and situations, and yet, even when the narrative uses a very confusing structure, the elements that really matter, remain consistent. It becomes really easy to go back and forth in time as we learn how these two people fell in love with each other. The story is pretty basic and uses many of the conventions used in these types of shows, and yet, it never goes into full melodrama or is too stoic.

The actors are amazing, especially the main cast, which consists of four actors that play the main character in their adult and teenage forms. Sometimes the look of the actors doesn’t really match their adult or younger counterparts, but you let that pass and make yourself believe they are the same person. Like we said before, unlike many other Japanese shows and movies, First Love never goes for overacting. This is definitely appreciated, as acting in this way has often been one of the elements that end up turning western audiences off from these shows.

The cinematography is beautiful, and the show moves between many settings. Sometimes the show takes us to rural Japan, to the coast, and, of course, to modern cities like Tokyo. All these environments are depicted in the most beautiful of ways, and they make you want to go there and visit those places. There is romance in the show that goes beyond the love story, there is also romance in the sense of being daring and going after what you want even when the odds are not in your favor.

As the story progresses, the show becomes more and more focused on splitting the story between different timelines. This might become confusing for some people, but there is no way around it. But we predict this will actually enhance the experience, as you will get to know how and when these two people fell in love with each other. Why they are separated, and if they will end up together or not in the end. This is a show that can be very sad at times, but there is definitely a hopeful throughline from beginning to end.

The show is available both in its original Japanese language with subtitles, but there is also an option for English dubbing. Having experienced both while watching the show, we have to say that the English dub is very good and will still allow you to experience the story effectively without having to read subtitles. Watching the show in its original language is the ideal scenario, but if you need to do something else while watching, the English dub will let you do that without missing a bit of the story.

In the end, First Love is one of the best love stories of 2022. Having a consistent vision behind the creation of the show really makes a difference, and you can definitely see it in the visuals and feel it in the way the story unfolds. There is nothing better than a good love story, and with only nine episodes, the series can be watched very quickly. It isn’t perfect, but it is absolutely one of Netflix’s best efforts in the genre, at least in 2022. If you are in the mood to cry and smile at the same time, then this is the show for you.

SCORE: 8/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.