Japan's Miike takes on the Romantic Musical - Really!
"For Love's Sake" is director Takashi Miike's take on musicals; but Miike is known for his genre-bending films, whether he's skewering the Western ("Sukiyaki Western Django") or Japanese horror ("One Missed Call") or historical epic ("13 Assassins," his most straightforward film I think). So "For Love's Sake," as you might expect, isn't like any other musical you've seen.
Ai (Emi Takai) is a wealthy schoolgirl, attending a posh private high school where she is first in her class for everything; Makoto (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is your quintessential Bad Boy, from the wrong side of the tracks and reeking with a bad attitude. All Makoto wants to do is sneer and fight, and he's completely indifferent to who he fights - boys, girls, old people, he'll take on anyone who looks at him the wrong way. Ai and Makoto have a secret history, one that means that Ai will do anything to help Makoto, but she wants more than anything for him to stop fighting. Of course, he won't and he very quickly is sent to reform school; Ai pulls some strings (via her father) and gets Makoto out of juvie and into her high school, where he lasts all of five seconds before heading to the nihilistic trade school, run by girl-gang boss Gumko. Makoto gets himself into hot water there too, but what he doesn't know is that Gumko isn't the true leader of the school, and when he gets on the wrong side of the *real* leader, he's really in trouble....
But yes, of course, it's a love story - aren't all musicals? A love story with very catchy J-pop tunes circa 1972 (when the film is set), including amusingly choreographed song-and-dance numbers, and with numerous breaks for extreme violence. The violence is so over-the-top, though, that you don't believe it for a second and instead it becomes funny, in a slapstick kinda way. Except when it doesn't - there are a few scenes here where the tone shifts from melodramatic hyperactivity to something darker and less fizzy, if I can use that term. At 133 minutes running time, I felt it had perhaps two or three more fight scenes than necessary and, sadly, fewer songs than I'd have liked, but the actors are all fine (fine singers too!) and that slightly surreal sense that seems to accompany Japanese films make "For Love's Sake" the perfect start to FantAsia 2012 here in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
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