Dir: Takashi Miike
A selection box of madness from the insanely prolific (and, one suspects, perhaps simply insane) Miike, this violent musical about a girl named Ai – Love in Japanese (Emi Takei) who falls for a bad seed named Makoto – Sincerity in Japanese (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and decides that she will devote herself to helping him reform himself, initially by making her Father bribe the head of the very exclusive prep school she goes to let Makoto in. Things don't work out, and Makoto is sent to a rough school, where the seemingly demure Yuki (pop singer Yo Hitono) and gang member Gumko (Sakura Ando) both fall for him. The stage is set for romance, songs and a series of beatings.
The strapline for selling For Love's Sake, should it pick up a UK distributor (and it should, and I suspect will) is likely to be that it's Miike's West Side Story. That's true to a point, certainly there's star crossed love and gang war, but both are rather one-sided. Ai's (slightly disturbing) devotion and incredible charity to Makoto isn't returned, or even gratefully received, and the 'gang war' is really one massive gang (led by a man in his 40's with a bad wig, who claims he has a premature ageing disease) against Makoto. The songs come in at irregular intervals, and there tend to be two or three in relatively rapid succession, followed by a long section of story.
The musical sequences are never organic and, based on the subtitles, seldom seem to comment directly on the action (Ai's song and the one sung by Ken and his gang seem to be the exceptions to this rule). This, however, doesn't stop them from being hugely entertaining. There is little similarity in terms of content or style, but some of the ways Miike uses the songs are redolent of Francois Ozon's 8 Women, be it the cutesy love song sung by Ai, or the outrageous camp of the numbers sung by Ai's parents and by Ken and his gang. At other times the songs veer closer to parody, especially when Ai's other suitor pledges his undying love, in an overblown song paired with an hilariously terrible dance number. Only a few are sincere, and even those don't really connect emotionally.
This is the problem with the film: at times it feels as though Miike wants to make a musical Love Exposure, but while this is a stylish and barmy film and there are things in the style (including the often brutal violence) that could as easily come from Sion Sono as Miike, For Love's Sake lacks the themeatic and dramatic weight, and thus the impact of Sono's great film. On the plus side though, Miike does manage to reconcile most of the wildly differing tones his film adopts - from slapstick comedy through to gritty violence - and make a film that hangs together as a piece, even if it doesn't make a huge amount of sense.
This isn't to say that the cast doesn't work hard. Ai seems a little psychotic in her devotion to Makoto, but Emi Takei's cute, sweet, open performance is hugely appealing. Satoshi Tsumabuki is equally good as Makoto, giving a committed and deeply unlikeable performance which nevertheless grabs the attention. However, they, and everyone else, are sometimes just blown off the screen by Sakura Ando. Ando fascinated me in Love Exposure, and her two appearances at the festival this year (she's also in a small part in The Samurai That Night) continue to make the case that she's one of the most naturally charismatic young actresses around. As Gumko she's wonderfully offbeat as a gang leader who falls for Makoto, and the scene in which she decides to change herself is both hilarious and a great demonstration of her talents.
For Love's Sake isn't a great movie, at the end of the day it's basically fluff (incredibly violent fluff at times, but fluff nevertheless). It's never less than hugely entertaining, but as good a time as I had, I didn't walk out with much lasting impression, nor was I humming any songs.