There was a time when I regarded Takashi Miike as one of the most exciting filmmaking talents of modern Asian cinema – oh, how times have changed. Since creating a stir with his ultra-violent horror films, the provocative director has experimented with several genre routes with various degrees of success. In his latest outing, he takes on the romcom musical genre with ‘For Love’s Sake’, a manga adapted feature about a kooky cutesy schoolgirl named Ai, who falls for a tough, streetwise delinquent named Makoto. As expected of Miike, the film is packed with high energy and stylish visuals, but unfortunately lacks the cutting-edge imagination of the director’s best work.
Makoto is a boring, sour-faced, mopey man, played with incredible dullness by Satoshi Tsumabuki. He’s your typical silent, badass type character that displays little emotion except in the face of battle. One night, whilst battling a group of angry dancing street thugs, he meets Ai, a naïve, rich high school student who is played with exceptional tedium by Takei Emi. She, for some inexplicable reason, instantly falls for the rude, little troublemaker. Makoto, on the other hand, shows very little interest in the girl and basically tells her to shove it. Unfortunately for all of us, she doesn’t take the hint. When Makoto is subsequently arrested, she arranges for him to be sent to her illustrious private school, thinking she can change him into the respectable and lovable human being she believes him to be. Unsurprisingly, his stay is short-lived, and he is soon expelled and moves to a rough, seedy high school full of big brutes and bad haircuts. Despite this setback, Ai doesn’t lose faith in Makoto, and decides to pursue him in a slightly stalker-ish manner, in the hopes that she can win his hollow, empty heart. What then follows is a plethora of bad singing, terrible dancing, more fighting, more singing, fighting again, and I’m sure you can guess the rest.
Though For Love’s Sake masquerades a number of different genres, it is essentially a romantic comedy at heart, and for a romcom to be successful, it needs to have two likeable lead characters that we can relate to, sympathise with, and above all else, care about. This film has two dislikeable leads that I don’t relate to, sympathise with, or indeed care about. They are annoying as individuals and make me want to stick a fork in my eye when they’re together – which isn’t exactly what you want from a supposedly fun, jolly romcom. Tsumabuki gives a depressingly, unimaginative, typical tough-guy performance as Makoto, which basically consists of constant frowns, swaggered walks, and pocketed hands. It’s a lazy, caricatured style of acting that is stripped of personality and deprived of any real human emotion, and sadly, this performance is adopted by the majority of the cast as if they’re all trying to do the same terrible Takashi Kitano impression. And if you think Takei Emi’s performance as Ai couldn’t possibly be any worse, you’d be wrong. She’s the latest addition in the nauseating, growing trend of the ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girls’. Her sole purpose in the film is to serve the male protagonist and to provide a love interest. She has no real goals that are independent of her own; she just exists in the context of the drama to be cute and bubbly, and to devote her life to Makoto like some hideous male fantasy.
The chemistry between the two actors is virtually non-existent. Obviously, the couple is deliberately meant to be mismatched, but the characters are so exaggerated in such polar opposite directions, that they seem to come from two entirely different films – one from a terrible gangster flick, and the other from a ‘high school musical’ of sorts. I can’t say I’m a fan of the whole musical action fight sequences either. In the Robert Wise’s ‘West Side Story’, the fighting and dancing were brilliantly choreographed with an elegance and gracefulness about it, but in this, it just seems messy and unnecessary – and the dreadfulness of the songs doesn’t help the situation either. Of course, with Miike at the helm, it’s not all bad news. There is a certain pizazz in the stylistic aspect of the film that is always admirable with his pictures, no matter how poor the narrative actually is. And there were also a few strange, surreal moments that were sort of interesting in a “that’s a bit weird” sort of way, but nonetheless, it doesn’t really save the film from going down the drain.
With every Miike film, there is that expectation that you’re going to watch something extraordinary, so if the director doesn’t deliver that, it does seem somewhat disappointing. For Love’s Sake is not an absolute abomination by any means, but it is remarkably unremarkable, and that is, perhaps, its biggest flaw. Even with all that zing and zest, and even with all that uber-wackiness and silly dancing, there is something incredibly boring about it, and that simply shouldn’t happen. Of the many Miike films I’ve seen in the past, this is the only one that I’ve found dull, and that is unforgiveable.
Words by Anthony Hon