Miike so nearly knocks one out of the park with this colourful, flamboyant and violent musical adaptation of a classic Manga. If only he could have controlled the length and given the film a better balance it would be up with his very best…
My relationship with the movies of Takashi Miike is a complex one. It was his Audition which helped spark my interest in Asian Cinema, and since then I have either been wowed or frankly bored by his prodigious output. With For Love’s Sake (Ai to Makato) he takes a classic manga serial (which has been adapted before) and turns it into a colourful musical, maybe a touch more West Side Story than the Bollywood-Inspired variety. Now, this isn’t his first foray into musical cinema (although The Happiness of the Katikuri’s was more surreal than straightforward in this respect), but could he actually pull this one off?
For Love’s Sake opens up in Anime style (evoking the source), showing the background between rich girl Ai (Emi Takei, Asuko March!, The Cherry Orchard) and ruffian Makoto (Satoshi Tsumabuki, Villian, Dororo, Tokyo!, Thirst/Kawaki). He saves her after a childhood skiing trip goes a little awry, and whilst their paths do not cross until later in life, she holds a torch for her hero. When she meets him later, she accidently (albeit with good intentions) causes him to be arrested after a street rumble with a local gang. To make amends she convinces her father to pull strings and get him placed in her private school, much to the chagrin of her would be suitor, class president Hiroshi (Takumi Saito, Ace Attorney, Space Battleship Yamato, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, 13 Assassins). Ai wants to rehabilitate Makoto. Makoto really isn’t interested, and his behaviour ensures he doesn’t last too long here. Cast down to the worst school in Tokyo he encounters the hulking leader of a schoolgirl gang, Gum-ko (Sakura Ando, Love Exposure, Crime or Punishment?!?, The Samurai That Night, Penance) and the mysterious Yuki (Ito Ohno, High School Debut, Until The Break Of Dawn) both of whom fall for his charms. The poor boy really isn’t interested though, as he has actually come to down to fulfil a private agenda. Of course Ai (along with Hiroshi) follow him, and it all comes to a violent head. Will the power of love save the day? Or has Miike got something a little darker in mind?
For over an hour this film is utterly fantastic and marvellous. I really don’t like musical cinema, but this charming blend of 1970′s Japanese pop songs, mixed with knowingly amateur choreography is just too winning to look down on. It is toe tapping, occasionally hilarious, and Emi Takei’s solo number is now in my mind the official translation of kawai.
Visually too, Miike brings his A-game. The first musical number, which introduces Makoto is a dizzying success, with the director simply using every modern visual trick in the sandbox. Sure it looks a little like it should be on the theatre stage, but I suspect that is intentional.
The acting is fine too, and whilst certain performers are simply too old for their characters (Tsumabuki is by far NOT the worst example, which leads to a neat joke later), and it actually a couple of the supporting cast that really impressed me – Saito is having a huge amount of fun, and Ando simply steals every scene she is in. Emi Takei is of course incredibly cute, but actually has very little to do, although it does appear she is totally in on the joke.
Being a Miike film, of course there is violence. A lot of violence. Gangs fight, Makato fights. It isn’t particularly graphic, but it does wear on you after a while. Worse still, although the first hour of the film manages to balance the fighting with joyous fun, the second half of the film almost forgets about the musical numbers, instead punctuating each plot movement with ever more wearisome battles.
Recent Miike films have been criticised for being overlong, and I have to agree in this case, it is painfully true. A couple of fight scenes could easily have been dropped, bringing the film at least 20 minutes down from the over 2 hour running time. Moreover, the imbalance of the musical numbers means that the whole film feels totally lopsided – though the pleasure from the opening half of the film do manage to last until the final credits. Stranger still is the almost last act reveal of what Makato is actually up to, which feels almost like a minor subplot. Contrast this with the brilliantly executed backstory of the mysterious Yuki, which is given far more weight than the story requires.
So I am conflicted. I loved the first hour so much, it gets a high rating. Even the second half has some brilliant moments, and we have Miike just let of the leash enough to be entertaining without being incoherent or upsetting. With some judicious editing, and a little re-balancing, this could have been an utter classic. Fortunately we still have something which is hugely enjoyable – I was smiling and tapping my foot by the end…. I was just a little worn down by all that punching!
For Love’s Sake is available now on UK Blu-ray and 2-disc DVD from Third Window Films.
Distributor: Third Window FIlms (UK)
Edition: 2-disc DVD (2013)
Extras include Making Of, Skip to a Song Selection, Theatrical Trailer