Is there a harder working or more versatile director anywhere in the world today than cult Japanese favourite Miike Takashi? Possibly not, the director offering up his third 2012 outing with “For Love’s Sake” (“Ai to Makoto”), a day-glo coloured pure romance musical revolving around gang fighting high school teens. The film is a new live action version of Kajiwara Ikki’s hugely popular 1973 manga series, which has already been adapted for the screen several times previously, and stars Tsumabuki Satoshi (“Villain”) and Takei Emi (“Rurouni Kenshin”) as a tough rebel and nice natured rich girl falling for each other. Though this might sound rather tame and straightforward for a director arguably best known for madness and mayhem, Miike fans can rest assured that the film is every bit as exuberantly and eccentrically out there as might be hoped.
The film begins in 1972 in the Kabuki-cho district of Tokyo with the fated meeting between nice natured rich girl Ai (Takei Emi) and street brawler Makoto (Tsumabuki Satoshi). Remembering him as the young boy who saved her from a skiing accident 11 years back, injuring his head in the process, she gets him transferred to her upmarket private school to try and work her way into his life. Unfortunately, the angry young punk gets kicked out for fighting with the teachers, and is transferred to the wretched Hanazone High, a school overrun with tough bullies and criminals, headed up by Gumko (Ando Sakura, “The Samurai that Night”), Gonto (Ihara Tsuyoshi, “Retirbution”) and Yuki (Ono Ito, “High School Debut”). Refusing to give up on him, despite his apparent lack of interest in her, Ai follows Makoto and enrolls, determined to do anything to win his heart.
Though a teen love musical might seem an unexpected choice for the director of “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer”, Miike is certainly no stranger to the genre, having helmed the offbeat 2001 effort “The Happiness of the Katakuris”, and having of late dabbled in 1970s Japanese pop culture with the likes of “Zebraman” and “Yatterman”. The film definitely feels like it fits in with his body of work, taking the familiar story of a rich high school girl falling for a tough rebel, and breathes kinetic life into it, infusing the film with wild energy, colourful style, catchy pop numbers and flashes of gangland violence.
This is achieved by amplifying pretty much everything, from the melodrama of the plot through to the cartoon like colours of the costumes and sets, and the result is something which approaches parody, while at the same time cynically embracing its pure love concept and revelling in its craziness with tongue in cheek exhilaration and more than a few moments of cruel meanness. Certainly, while some viewers may well find its central romance moving, others will take it as a mocking poke at the genre, though either way, the film engages throughout, flying by at a manic pace despite its two hours plus running time.
Whether taken at face value or not, the film is utterly entertaining in the most unadulterated sense, an over the top, bewildering and hyper-stylised assault on the senses that sees Miike really cutting loose. The musical aspects of the film work very well, with a bouncy soundtrack of 1970s Japanese pop that fits the comic book visuals perfectly, and even those who don’t usually enjoy this kind of thing will likely find themselves smiling and tapping their feet. This combines with a surprising amount of gang violence to give the film a “West Side Story” type feel, crossed with the director’s popular “Crows Zero” series, which it frequently resembles thanks to its cast of oddball yet likeable bullies and brutes. Though violent, and with the odd scene of disorienting sadism or sexual suggestiveness, this never feels out of place or undermines the mock sugar-coated love theme, which much of its well-choreographed fight scenes being played for laughs (even if quite a few of these do seem to be aimed at members of the female cast being tossed around).
Filled with the director’s bizarre creativity, “For Love’s Sake” is a unique and magical film which manages to mix strangeness and silliness with possibly genuine heart and emotion. There really hasn’t been anything like this on cinema screens for quite some time, and Miike again shows that he’s more than capable of working in any form or genre and of making it unmistakably his own.
Takashi Miike (director) / Ikki Kajiwara, Takumi Nagayasu (manga), Takayuki Takuma (screenplay)
CAST: Satoshi Tsumabuki … Makoto Taiga
Emi Takei … Ai Saotome childhood
Takumi Saitô … Hiroshi Iwashimizu
Ito Ohno … Yuki Takahara
Masachika Ichimura … Shogo Saotome