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For Love's Sake
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by Jay Seaver

"Takashi Miike the way you like him - making a teen musical romantic comedy!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2012 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "For Love's Sake" is the sort of crazy mix of adolescent emotions that seem over-the-top when you describe it, often going from pure sweetness to eye-rolling to angry violence in the very same scene. It's just what one might expect from Takashi Miike's take on the team romance genre, right down to the musical numbers.

Ai Saotome (Emi Takei) is a top student and sports star at the Aobodichi Prep School, able to have her choice of boyfriends if she so desires. The one she chooses comes way out of left fiend, as she uses her wealthy and connected parents to get Makoto Taiga (Satoshi Tsumbuki), a violent delinquent from Nagano, into the exclusive Tokyo academy. This causes consternation for her would-be boyfriend Hiroshi Iwashimizu (Takumi Saito), as well as attention from students at an underfunded local public school: "Gumko" (Sakura Ando), a strange girl-gang leader, weirdly-mature-looking teen tough Ken Gonta (Tsuyoshi Ihara), and Yuri Takahara (Ito Ono), the girl he adores.

Emotions are strong and quickly changeable for teenagers, and the particularly clever thing about For Love's Sake is that they and their presentation is heightened in both directions. There are songs, and they are by and large cheerful, upbeat love songs, but there are also fights, rumbles which sometimes look like they could have been transplanted directly from Miike's Crows films. They occasionally happen at the same time, but not that often; Miike and writers Takayuki Takuma & Takumi Nagayasu use them to create emotional swings rather than to suggest that all passion is basically the same.

Miike, of course, is known for doings strange things and engaging in self-parody, but in noting the basic fact of his movies' eccentricity, what's often missed is that he does it very well indeed, making things work both straight and with a wink. The musical numbers are somewhat more slickly produced than the ones in his The Happiness of the Katakuris, and have a solid pop base to them, but half the fun is in how the characters not singing clearly think that there's something weird going on, especially when it's Ai kind of mortified at her parents getting into the act. The fights are just as crazy at times, with Ken displaying superhuman strength and most taking place in a bad side of town that almost resembles a post-apocalyptic urban wasteland, but the really weird thing is that at certain points Makoto is going at it with girls, and Miike sells it well enough that it only seems kind of weird other than really wrong-headed.

Of course, when you're trying to do a lot, it's almost inevitable that some bits just won't work. Original manga Ai to Makoto ran for about three years of weekly episodes, enough time for there to be side-stories and subplots that bog the movie down a bit - for instance, Ai's part-time job as a waitress which gets immediately and delightfully weird, but which just sort of gets dropped after one musical number. Given that the movie retains the title of the manga in Japan, it could do with a somewhat tighter focus on Ai and Makoto. There are some pointless out-of-nowhere aspects to the last act, too.

Happily, the cast is good enough to both embrace the strangeness and roll over the problematic parts. Emi Takei is especially good as Ai, making the good-girl character a lot of fun with her very expressive face and ability to project utter sincerity in both comedy and romance. Satoshi Tsumabuki, meanwhile, does a better job than most playing this sort of bad-boy type at actually showing some kind of affection even while being aloof and hostile most of the time. The pair are a complete mismatch, but always fun to watch. Also a lot of fun are Takumi Saito, who makes a wonderfully earnest doomed rival and cartoon violence target as Iwashimizu, and Tsuyoshi Ihara, who is playing a character roughly a third of his actual age and making it work by throwing himself into the role with abandon.

It says something about Takashi Miike's career that "For Love's Sake" isn't nearly the craziest thing he's done, or the oddest twist on a genre. It's genuinely unconventional while remaining sweet, though, an extremely enjoyable twist on a story that generally resists such things.

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originally posted: 07/21/12 02:03:08
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2012 series, click here.

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