Ai to makoto (2012)
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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.
For Love's Sake (or Ai to Makoto) is a recent Takashi Miike production that is as equally adorable as it is preposterous. Some people will think it is a wonderfully brilliant piece of comedy, while others will be left asking themselves WTF was that piece of pointless indulgent crap they just watched?...Personally, I loved it, but it is clearly not going to work for everyone.
Your story here involves a young rich high school girl who falls for the poor bad boy outsider from the wrong side of town. She's determined to change his self destructive ways and become his girlfriend no matter what she must do. Along the way, she must contend with various love interests, high school gangs, evil plots, and other roadblocks to win his heart. Simple enough!...Oh, and it's a musical infused with typical Miike style!
The fact that this film is a musical is almost beside the point. At its heart, this film is a straight up parody of an amalgam of movies, and, it is exceptionally well done in that aspect. The problem lies with the fact that you must have a real solid familiarity with, and likely some fondness for, the movies and genres it is satirizing, or it just won't make any sense at all. In essence, you will either "get it", & it therefore might connect with you, or not. If you do "get it" though, you're likely going to enjoy it.
I found this story, and the movie in general, to be both inventive and hilarious. Several of the people I watched it with were baffled by this however. I was asked several times what was so funny, only to clumsily attempt to reference other Miike films/typical high school girl angst tales/standard Asian melodrama fare/wrist cutter send ups/Japanese gangster themes/manga adaptions/etc , in order to try to explain the humor behind it all.
This film takes it time getting started, and it's longer than it should be. But, it's worth it big time for the right moviegoer. By the time the final act rolls around, and all ludicrous plot points converge, this is one magnificently sardonic steamroller running on all cylinders; the male lead is busy beating up every guy and girl in sight while racing to reconnect with his estranged mother before she commits suicide, the 2 female leads are obliviously determined to act out their own preconceived notions of how they think events were destined to unfold (regardless of what is actually going on around them), the 40 year old student is seeking to lay claim as the toughest high school gangster in town once and for all, the nerd is trying to save his love while not losing her to the cool guy hero, and, on it goes. Meanwhile, everyone is going about their business with over the top musical flair.
From the performances, to the story, to the wonderful set designs, this film accomplishes exactly what it set out to achieve. Even the musical numbers were obviously & deliberately dubbed in post production just to add one more comical oddity to the whole experience.
Indeed, this is not a film for everyone; I can think of only a select few acquaintances I would even try to bother recommending this to. And, it is almost certain to draw wildly varying ratings and opinions, depending on the viewer. For those of you who think you know what you're likely in for though, it is well recommended!
7 out of 10 stars.
Which brings us to Miike's latest adaptation of the manga series which is quite a departure from his usual eclectic work. Although Miike is often known for his dark, twisted, bloody, "grindhouse-like" earlier works like "Ichi The Killer", "Audition" and "Gozu", he has in recent years shown much range and diversity by branching out into a wide variety of different projects with more mainstream appeal like "Ace Attorney", "Crows Zero", "Yatterman" and "13 Assassins". "Ai To Makoto" is not Miike's only foray into the movie musical genre as he delivered a fairly interesting example with his "Katakuri-ke no kôfuku AKA The Happiness of the Katakuris" (2001) which could only be described as a "murder musical" along the lines of Tim Burton's "Sweeney Todd". "Ai No Makoto" is a pretty unique film as offhand, I can't really recall any recent examples of Japanese film Musicals equivalent to "Mama Mia", "Slumdog Millionaire" or "Moulin Rouge".
Miike's "Ai To Makoto" seems to be inspired a lot by Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" (1996). Not only do they share a similar look and feel but they also oddly enough share a similar "star-crossed lovers" type of storyline as well.
Like that film, the musical numbers include a number of familiar songs which are covered by the cast. Unless you lived in Japan during the 70s or are a fan of "kayokyoku" (Japanese Pop and folk music), foreign audiences may not really identify with the "Ai To Makoto's" soundtrack which reads like a play list for 70s Japan. While we don't get any iconic songs from Pink Lady, Yamaguchi Momoe or Candies, we do get some minor classics like Nishikino Akira's "Sora No Taiyo Ga Aru Kagari", Kawashima Eigo's "Sake To Namida To Ottoko To Onna" and the late Ozaki Kiyohiko's "Mata Au Hi Made" (my personal favorite). By the way, the song that another reviewer mentioned sounds similar to Kaji Mieko's "Urami Bushi" is Sono Mari's "Yume Wa Yoru Hiraku" (1966), a song that was covered by a number of artists in the 70s including Fuji Keiko (JPop singing star Utada Hikaru's mom).
Miike along with screenwriter Takuma Takayuki have taken some liberties with Kajikawa's original story for the interest of plot development and time. A number of major villains in the series including the sadistic whip wielding thug Sado Shun and Gonta's Yakuza crime-lord father Zaoh Yohei are also missing unfortunately.
Miike's direction is consistently great. He has a wonderful stylistic flair and definitely puts it to good use in the film. The cast is superb. Tsumabuki Satoshi ("Villain") impresses once again with yet another very challenging role. With his pretty boy good looks and rebel attitude, Tsumabuki does a good job of bringing to life the somewhat unlikeable character of Makoto. Although he only has one major song/dance sequence, Tsumabuki does showoff some good singing skills with his rendition of Saijo Hideki's "Hageshi Koi", the film's eye-opening beginning number. Takei Emi whose credits include mostly TV dramas like "W no Higeki" and "Liar Game" is also fantastic in this her first feature film. She brings just the right amount of girlish charm and naiveté to her role and she is absolutely fetching as the appropriately named character of "Ai" (love). While her rendition of Kitayama Masashi/Kato kazuhiko's "No Subarashi Ai O Mo Ichido" seemed a bit off-key, Takei's overall performance in the rest of the film was pretty good. The rest of the supporting cast was also exceptional including Saito Takumi ("Uchusenkan Yamato") who portrays Ai's classmate, the academically brilliant but hopelessly awkward Iwashima Hiroshi, who secretly longs for her; fashion model turned actress Ito Ono, who portrays the beautiful but emotionally cold Takahara Yuki, leader of the "Hana Zone Sukeban Girls Gang" whose deadly skill with throwing knives is to be feared; and Ihara Tsuyoshi ("NINJA", "JINGI") who portrays the hulking basher Zaoh Gonta. His rendition of the theme song to the 60's anime series "Okami Shonen Ken" is hilarious. Ando Sakura ("Lifeline", "Torso") is a standout as the wacky "Gum-Ko", a Sukeban with a heart.
Who would have thought Miike could craft a nostalgic and sentimental love story. Those who think Miike has mellowed out and softened however should take comfort in knowing that he returns to his darker side with the just recently released "Aku No Kyoten" (AKA Lessons of Evil) an adaptation of Kishi Yusuke's violent thriller.