I don’t know what it is that draws Takashi Miike to projects but you could never accuse the man of being one-dimensional. In the past three years alone he has directed two samurai movies, a superhero film and a farcical children’s adventure. He has two movies scheduled for release next year and three films from 2012 that have yet to see the light of day on western shores. For Love’s Sake – a fascinating blend of High School Musical, Crows Zero and West Side Story – is the first to hit UK shelves, courtesy of Third Window Films.
In 2001 Miike directed one of my favourite movies, a quirky zombie musical called The Happiness of the Katakuris. Combining elements of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family and Christmas favourite The Sound of Music, Katakuris was an offbeat masterpiece infused with claymation set pieces, twisted humour and karaoke singalongs. For Love’s Sake drops the zombie action in favour of gangster romance, animated bookends and unrequited love. Based on the original manga by Ikki Kajiwara and Takumi Nagayasu, For Love’s Sake stars Satoshi Tsumabuki (Dororo), Emi Takei (Rurouni Kenshin) and Sakura Ando (Love Exposure).
Popular in Japan since the 1970’s, Ai to Makoto has already been adapted for TV and film several times. It tells the story of Makoto and Ai, a delinquent outcast and an innocent schoolgirl. A colourful animated sequence sets the scene, depicting the accident that triggers their first meeting. They are reunited as high school students and Ai feels responsible for Makoto’s bad behaviour, so she sets out to make things right. Her unwanted attention only makes matters worse and before long Makoto is transferred to Hanazono, a wretched hive if ever there was one. Will love find a way? I feel a dance number coming on…
The first thing you’ll notice about Miike’s latest is how charming the songs are. I’m not exactly fluent in Japanese but I have found myself humming along to the jaunty tunes from time to time. Some of the actors get lost in the moment, particularly Ai’s parents, who bring high camp to every dance routine they’re involved in. It’s a shame that the other songs aren’t greeted with as much enthusiasm because For Love’s Sake would’ve benefited from some fitting dance choreography.
The songs are great but they’re not always delivered with style and flair. Maybe I’ve seen one too many episodes of Glee but I would’ve liked a little more creativity; a heady dose of visual panache to match the contagious song writing. Overall the film looks great though, far more compelling than the meagre budget would suggest. Performances are strong and the two leads compliment each other well. Sakura Ando is another standout, deliriously diverting as Gum-ko, the unsightly gang leader who falls for Makoto’s roguish charm.
Unfortunately, For Love’s Sake loses focus whenever the characters aren’t singing. It’s a longwinded journey and too much time is spent plodding from one fight sequence to the next. Perhaps Miike thought he was making another Crows Zero, because the fight scenes come thick and fast and the violent outbursts don’t always sit well with the quirky pop numbers. Some of the themes are slightly repetitive too, much like the brawling, and it would’ve felt tighter had Miike shaved 30 minutes off the running time. As it is the story is weak, the character arcs are stretched and the physical outbursts lose their appeal very quickly.
Occasionally fantastic but deeply flawed, For Love’s Sake is a disjointed affair from start to finish. There are some great moments littered throughout but its certainly not essential Miike viewing. There’s still a lot to like of course, that goes without saying, but a little less fighting and a little more focus would’ve helped immensely. Weird, wacky and occasionally wearisome, For Love’s Sake is the beauty and the beast rolled into one. Admirable for sure, but rarely memorable. AW