09:00 - 10th August 2013, by David West

For Love's Sake

Ai Saotome (Emi Takei) is a nice girl from a rich family. Makoto Taiga (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is a teenage delinquent. When they were kids, they were both in an accident that left Makoto with a scar on his forehead. Now that they are teenagers, Ai decides it is her life's mission to reform Makoto and to make him an upstanding citizen. Is she driven by guilt over the childhood mishap, or is she smitten with this unruly troublemaker?

Directed by Takashi Miike, For Love's Sake is essentially Crows Zero with musical numbers and more girls. The story is based on a romance manga from the 1970s, and Miike merrily spoofs the entire genre by overplaying the melodrama. Ai is positively delusional in her devotion to Makoto, always excusing his behaviour no matter how dismissively and callously he treats her. Emi Takei is excellent as the love struck heroine, all wide-eyed innocence and purity as she gazes at the surly object of her devotion. Satoshi Tsumabuki is less engaging as Makoto, who is rather more one-dimensional. The character is almost indistinguishable from Genji, the protagonist of Crows Zero played by Shun Oguri. He mostly sneers and snarls a lot.

The musical numbers are undoubtedly highlights of the film, performed with just enough over-the-top gusto by the cast to move them from homage to parody. Each of the major characters has their own song in the spotlight. Emi Takei performs Ai's song with goofy enthusiasm, but the real stars on the musical front are Yo Hitoto and Masachika Ichimura as Ai's parents. Their song is a high camp classic, made all the funnier by the absolute commitment they give to their performance contrasted with the baffled look on Ai's face as her parents dance around her.

A major plot point sees Ai transferring to a school notorious for being overrun by delinquents just to be closer to Makoto. Her new 'companions' at the rundown Hanazono Trade School include tough girl Gumko (Sakura Ando), morose Yuki (Ito Ono) and the strongest guy in school Genta Zao (Tsuyoshi Ihara). Sakura Ando makes Gumko oddly likeable, while Ono is a little flat as Yuki - her character is supposed to be cold, but she mostly seems detached. However, she does sing a hilarious love song in a filthy toilet. There is a recurring gag about Genta looking far too old to be in high school, a dig at the common practice of casting adults as teenagers. The final showdown between Makoto and Genta lacks much impact, largely due to the decision not to have any music in the scene, which cries out for a rousing soundtrack.

The many fights in the film could have been lifted direct from Crows Zero and contain the same choreographic style, largely composed of haymakers, headbutts and knees to the gut. The pace would be sharper if it was shorter and trimming the battles would be a good start, as there are just too many of them and they quickly become repetitive.

Not as outrageous as Miike's other musical outing, The Happiness Of The Katakuris, but the director is having fun here and that feels infectious.
SCORE: 3.5/5
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