Takashi Miike. You may recall him from 13 Assassins (2010), Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011), the well constructed atrocities of Ichi The Killer (2001) and Audition (1999) or perhaps Crows Zero (2007) andCrows Zero 2(2009). A prolific director with a fascinating career, his recent film For Love’s Sake receives a release on Blu-Ray and DVD. There is action involved but, as the title suggests, this is also a love story and – a great addition to the smorgasbord of cinematic delights on offer – is that For Love’s Sake is also a musical. Before you raise concerns as to whether Miike is the man for a musical, especially one with action and romance, you need only recall (or revisit or just watch) the wonderful The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) to know that song and dance numbers are most definitely a part of his cinematic repertoire.
Ai Saotome (Emi Takei) is appropriately named Ai, which means ‘love’, because she has a strong heart and a deep passion for bad boy Makoto Taiga (Satoshi Tsumabuki), as well as a distinct dislike for violence. This is a problem on a number of levels as Makoto does not love Ai and is also prone to getting involved with gangland street encounters that enable him to engage in extreme fighting. Arrested by the police for taking on a bunch of hoodlums he is sentenced to borstal, but Ai gets her rich father to secure Makoto’s release in order that he take lessons at the bourgeois school she attends. The other rich students have to try to come to terms with their aggressive new classmate, particularly Hiroshi Iwashimizu (Takumi Saitô), who harbours a secret desire for Ai. However Ai is determined to engage with the love of her life, believing in the fidelity, sincerity and trust his name suggests, even if he doesn’t seem to demonstrate those qualities. She takes roles outside school that are distinctly inappropriate for her family and class expectations and ends up in a lower class school, one run by gangs. There she encounters Gum-ko (Sakura Andô) whose violent nature is matched only by her endless chewing of gum. Can class and culture change? Will love bloom or is it doomed? Only time, relationships, revelations of a lengthy past and a frightening number of conflicts can resolve the situation.
Based on Kajiwara Ikki’s 1973 manga Ai to Makoto, which has previously been adapted for TV and film, Takashi Miike’s version is not a simple remake. Although the themes and characters remain, there is something altogether new about this version. Rather like his remake of The Quiet Family (1998) (which became a different entity as The Happiness of the Katakuris) it remains thematically comparable to its original version, with music from producer Kobayashi Takeshi. The musical numbers offer an eclectic range of styles to match different tastes, characters and situations. So there is the hard-pop-rock street opening bash and dance fighting numbers as well as more lyrical teen-poetry pieces and a deliciously kitsch duet from Ai’s parents, Shogo (Masachika Ichimura) and Miyako (Yô Hitoto). The dance routines are also deeply enjoyable and range from accurately choreographed group dances to deliberately individualistic (but no less engaging) overt romantic impulses. The piece is enhanced by a colourful range of costumes and sets that range from the posh Saotome family’s lovely mansion to the neon lighting brightness and deliberately grungy nature of the club and street scenes. Makoto has a fancy head scar that leads people to confuse him with the Kamen Rider (or not really). So plenty of visual flair that matches the deliberately 70’s costume design, mixed with a hint of that period’s Nikkatsu output at times.
Extras on DVDs can be a mixed affair but this release provides an interesting ‘making of’ documentary as well as all the music numbers edited down to a half hour music video album (you can, of course, pick individual tracks you wish). Sadly the subtitle options are only in English – no Japanese or Romaji for that much needed karaoke experience – but this is a really minor quibble.
For Love’s Sake is great fun – chock full of song, dance, love and fights. There are even important introductory scenes in anime style (a slightly different technique to the claymation in The Happiness of the Katakuris). More savagery, torture and gang warfare than Mamma Mia! (2008) but more song and dance numbers than Hard Boiled (1992). What’s not to enjoy?