‘West Side Story’ gets the Japanese treatment…
Apparently, Takashi Miike is known for being a zany director who challenges conventional cinematic genres. Having watched my first Miike film, ‘For Love’s Sake’, I can see why this is the case. Miike is a pioneer of ‘weird Japanese cinema’, and I mean that in a good way. I watched this with my flatmate, who had absolutely no experience of Japanese cinema other than me telling her ‘don’t worry if it gets weird. That’s normal’! We both enjoyed it and, indeed, agreed it was pretty weird but very entertaining.
This latest offering from Third Window Films is an epic story of a rich high school girl who falls in love with a tough young gangster. Miike’s take on the story breaks all the rules with musical numbers (with music by popular music producer Kobayashi Takeshi), tongue-in-cheek humour, and in-your-face violence. ‘For Love’s Sake’ is a unique and incredibly wild ride that will change your definition of what a pure romance can be.
1972, Tokyo. Ai (Takei Emi) is a naïve rich girl who meets young street punk Makoto (Tsumabuki Satoshi) in the seedy Kabuki-cho district. Ai immediately remembers Makoto as the boy who saved her 11 years ago and falls head over heels in love with him. Using her parents’ connection, Ai manages to get Makoto transferred into her fancy private school. However, Makoto gets into a fight with the school’s teachers and gets kicked out of the academy. Completely devoted to the love of her life, Ai gives up her life of privilege and follows Makoto to a high school filled with delinquents, only to be challenged by new rivals for Makoto’s affections. Will Ai’s beautiful, angelic love save Makoto, or will she be swallowed by his dark world of crime?
The word ‘musical’ might make you groan but the good news is that most of the musical numbers seem to happen in the first hour or so of the film, allowing you to focus on the fight scenes and plot for the rest of it. There’s a lot of clicking, leg kicking, awkward dad dancing and sing-song declarations of love – very much like ‘West Side Story’, in my opinion. Some of the songs are real gems, particularly with Makoto’s perfectly synchronised fight scenes. We both preferred songs like these to the lovey-lovey love songs, which can probably be explained by the fact that we have a preference for action films. So, there’s something for everyone in the musical scores; both the romantic types and the kick-ass types.
In general, the characters are rather two-dimensional, but Miike forces them into unconventional settings and this is where the magic happens. Our heroine Saotome Ai is beautiful, rich and super-duper in love with Makota, who hates everything and everyone, except fighting. Ai persuades her private school to take on the rebellious Makota, hoping to rehabilitate him, and within five minutes he’s punched the teacher. Add to the equation Iwashimizu, a rival for Ai’s affections, gang members Yuki, Gumko (who gets her name from chewing gum) and Gonta (a high school student with a disease that makes him look like an old man, played by 50-year-old Tsuyoshi Ihara). It’s a bizarre mix of characters, and no one really sticks to their conventional roles throughout the film. The good news is, if you find Ai annoying, she does get punched within the first five minutes of the film, but it doesn’t knock any of the happy out of her.
The thing I liked most about this film was how well the punches and music worked together. Towards the end, there’s a brilliant number with high school girls with clubs taking on Taiga… I’ll let you find out for yourself how that plays out, but I promise it’s entertaining. The story doesn’t play out in an entirely linear fashion, either, and neither my flatmate or I expected a lot of what happened. We were thrown little surprises throughout the film, and it is surprisingly dark in places.
Overall, I really enjoyed ‘For Love’s Sake’. It’s weird, wacky and very funny. I think it’s safe to say that Takashi Miike is a bit bonkers but also a bit of a genius. I had high hopes for the film to begin with because I had had so many good things about him as a director, and I think this was a good introduction to his style. I’ll certainly be picking up some more Miike films and, unexpectedly, Japanese musicals!
As a preview, here’s the first song from the film, courtesy of Third Window Films.