As a director, Takashi Miike is impossible to define beyond his boundless productivity. Yakuza, musicals, superheroes, children friendly, gore, taboo baiting, samurai, horror, video game adaptations, these are well within Miike’s wheelhouse, there are few people in the world as outright eccentric. His latest to see release in the UK is For Love’s Sake, itself adapted from a Manga series – Ai to Makoto – albeit one which has been done for TV once and the big screen 3 times before Miike had a go.
In an animated setup, a Young Ai (Emi Takei) rushes down the side of a mountain on ski’s, getting faster and faster to the point where she cannot stop. At the bottom of the mountain is a young Makoto (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who stops Ai, but in saving her he scars his forehead. Years later they meet again in Tokyo, where Makoto is fighting huge numbers of a high school gang and Ai is sat nearby. Seeing his scar, Ai instantly feels responsible for what her once saviour has become, there and then she becomes committed to fixing his life that she feels responsible for ruining. This decision takes the delinquent into high-class public education before Ai follows him back to a delinquent high school; where Taiga Makoto upsets near enough everyone kick-starting a one-man war against the student body.
Basically, think West Side Story in Japan with more punching, kicking and the rolling of r’s that Yakuza’s and delinquents are so good at. Within Miike’s enviable filmography the most concise way to describe For Love’s Sake is Crows Zero meets the Katakuri’s. The story isn’t the strongest aspect of the film; in its essence, it’s about a good girl obsessed with a bad boy who wants nothing to do with anything beyond his obsession for revenge. Even the fight sequences are left wanting as most of the time they are simply a flurry of fists and feet, no thrills street fighting at its core. This approach does mean some of the more drawn out fight sequences do flirt with tedium.
The more impressive moments are within the musical numbers. Miike’s other outing into the musical is in the Happiness of the Katakuri’s, and while nowhere near as out-there, he is still showcasing an eagerness for playing with convention.
As a musical that includes archetypes like the bourgeoisie, high school students and gangsters, the styles of music that Miike borrows from are diverse. He spans the divide between rock and the twee end of the pop scale. A favourite comes from Gonta Zao (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a character who says he has a disease that makes him look like an old man. Before he gets involved in a fight his number sounds like its cut from the Guitar Wolf cloth, sans the deafening distortion. Every new song is fresh and different from the last, offering something for every musical taste. The only problem is the film neglects to include any musical numbers for a good 45 minutes or so and it’s in this window where For Love’s Sake is at its weakest.
Jumping from the nadir to the zenith, another of the strongest qualities is Miike employing his dark sense of humour by playing around with form. The animated bookmarks have already been alluded to, and as interesting a detour as these moments provide, they pale in comparison to the trick he uses in a flashback. That eventual bit of retrospective characterization is done via the most unexpected means. In 2005, Miike did a stage play, Demon Pond, and he has brought that same sense of set dressing and prop work to depict a characters rough upbringing. This turns hard subject matter into a visual treat, feeding off the stagey origins of the musical.
Head on the film is a slight musical than blends together gangster and high school, the director may be a mad genius but that truth remains. Nonetheless, to describe the film under such reductive terms would be ignoring just how much fun a film this is. For Love’s Sake is Takashi Miike having fun, that is near enough impossible to not get caught up in.
Out on June 10th on Third Window Films UK. If this sounds like your thing, and to be perfectly fair this film is custom made for the geek show crowd. Well, if this sounds like your thing order it from Amazon or HMV as big organisations need to back small labels, like this one, for such labels to continue existing. Support your independents.