Takashi Miike’s second phase of filmmaking (I consider 2007 its beginning, when films like “Crows Zero” and “Like A Dragon” proved his prowess in shooting large scale manga adaptations), the one mostly dealing with manga adaptations, has been at its best when the Japanese master was able to make films that function as a collage of different ideas. “Ai to Makoto”, the manga by Ikki Kajiwara and Takumi Nagayasu the film is based on, gave Miike a perfect opportunity to produce a movie in that style, as it includes elements of 70s exploitation, musical and anime/manga aesthetics, to name a few. Let us take things from the beginning though.
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The anime intro begins in 1961, when a skiing accident introduces the aristocrat Ai to the punk Makoto. 11 years later, and in live-action mode, the two meet again, when Ai, a senior in a prestigious high school, stumbles upon Makoto as he fights the members of a Tokyo gang on his own. Makoto emerges victorious, after the first musical act of the film, but soon after the fight has ended, the police arrive and attempt to arrest him. Ai, who immediately starts to have feelings for Makoto, uses her family’s influence to persuade the officers to let him go, and in an even more extreme act a bit later, persuades her school’s administration to give a scholarship to Makoto.
Needless to say, her plans do not work out the way she intended, with Iwashimizu, an elite student who has already declared his love towards her, playing a major role in the whole succession of events. Furthermore, Makoto seems to want nothing to do with the bourgeois Ai, despite her desperate efforts, that even result in her dancing in a maid cafe. Eventually, Makoto is send to Hanazono Trade School to be with his “own kind”, where he meets the girl’s gang that rule the school, headed by Yuki and her main henchman, Kenta, and Gumko, a girl who is beaten by Makoto shortly after, starts having feelings for him. Expectedly and as soon as Ai and Iwashimizu find themselves in Hanazono, all hell breaks loose.
Takashi Miike directs another absurd amalgam of different genres, where hyperbole in both the narrative and the production values seems to be the rule. In that setting, hand-to-hand action, gore and violence, musical, school drama, romance, Yakuza themes, anime references, slapstick humor, sensualism, and an overall ridiculousness particularly regarding the characters’ creation come together in a result that only Miike could make work. Of course, logic is nowhere to be found as it has given its place to extremity, and even love is portrayed as an exploitative notion, mostly deriving from violence, even against women. On the other hand, do not expect a film like “Imprint” or even “Audition”, since the musical elements and the anime/comedy aesthetics “tame” the gore element significantly.
Regarding the production values, the trademark maximalism in the visual aspect, which has made Miike an ideal director to adapt manga on the big screen, is everywhere, in a narrative that takes place in a number of settings, including an elite and a lowest-class school, a mansion, and a number of streets and buildings. In that fashion, and as I watched the movie, I couldn’t help thinking that Yuji Hayashida, the production designer, had the hardest work of everyone involved, since the plethora of sets he has constructed are astonishing, in perfect resonance with the aforementioned, anime-like maximalism. Nobuyasu Kita’s cinematography is also quite good, presenting the settings and the characters with a very fitting hyperbole, while Kenji Yamashita’s editing induces the film with a franticness that serves its aesthetics to perfection.
In this concept, the acting could not follow any different rules, with Satoshi Tsumabuki as Makoto, Emi Takei as Ai and Takumi Saito as Iwashimizu portraying their characters like absurd caricatures, with a false but intended theatricality. Sakura Ando as Gumko, Kimiko Yo as Toyo and Tsuyoshi Ihara as Kenta round up a more than great cast.
“For Love’s Sake” is a distinct sample of the manga adaptations Miike has been turning up relentlessly during the last 10 years (give or take) and a very entertaining movie that will definitely satisfy all fans of his second phase. Tolerating, or even better, enjoying absurdity is a must, though.