Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Emi Takei, Takumi Saito, Kimiko Yo, Ito Ohno
Ai to Makoto, also known as For Love’s Sake, follows teenage delinquent and all around troublemaker Makoto Taiga (Satoshi Tsumabuki). Arriving in Tokyo for some sort of revenge, he immediately encounters a group of toughs itching for a fight. There to witness the battle is Ai Saotome (Emi Takei), a girl from a well to do family that has a previous connection to Makoto. Their reunion is short lived however as Makoto is taken into custody for brawling. Pulling strings, via her connected parents, Ai sets up a transfer for the quick-to-fight young man to enter her prestigious school. Shocking his new classmates with his aggressiveness, he comes into contact with Iwashimizu (Takumi Saito), also Class President and hopelessly in love with Ai. As the situation escalates, these three come into conflict with students of the delinquent-filled Hanazono Trade School. Encountering love-struck students, brutally powerful yankees, and a mysteriously Makoto-obsessed girl (Ito Ono), can Ai find a way to make Makoto reciprocate her love? Or will nothing get in the way of his mysterious quest for revenge?
Director Takashi Miike revisits the musical genre with this wildly unique and energetic adaptation of the 1970s manga series. Melding various styles; from animation to stage production, Ai to Makoto seems to have a little something for everyone. The comedy leans to the absurd with exaggerated poses and odd pauses adding an awkward bend to much of the dialogue. It is common for characters to speak nonsense and, in some cases, for the dance scenes in the musical bits to be acknowledged by characters in the film. It’s a very weird mix of styles, and while it doesn’t always ‘snap’ it hits more often than not.
Tsumabuki plays the badass with no respect for authority surprisingly well. I know him mostly for his nebbish roles and to see him convincingly take out masses of punks was somewhat of a surprise. Relative newcomer Emi Takei is very cute as the devoted but headshakingly naive Ai. Her earnestness earned her a lot of points initially, but it started to grate on me a bit towards the end. Nothing too bad, that was her role after all, but perhaps some adulthood cynicism is more at play than I’d like to admit. The supporting cast is good too; with Ito Ono providing some ‘competition’ for Ai with her portrayal of Yuki. She’s definitely damaged but a decent rival and, up until the end, I didn’t know who to root for. Tsuyoshi Ihara should also be given major credit for his hilarious portrayal of 17 year old badass Gonta, a role he is able to take because of his character’s unexplained medical affliction that makes him age quickly. There are a large number of characters, presumably because of the length of the original source, so it may be hard to keep track of names, but it’s much easier as the film progresses and you get to learn about them as opposed to the intro heavy beginning.
The music is immensely enjoyable; ranging in styles like pop, enka, and more, but all within the context of the era in which the film is set. The musical numbers aren’t particularly well choreographed but they are fun and when fisticuffs are layered over music, it was hard to keep the smile off my face. While the music is engaging, they sometimes go on for too long; Ai’s parents’ portion and Gumko’s normal girl routine being major offenders. The songs also don’t necessarily serve the progression of the story, but merely take the place of internal monologue in many instances. Action permeates throughout the film and it’s your typical, and very entertaining, punk style beat’em up. I was very surprised at the final act beatdown that featured Makoto punching and kicking about 50 delinquent schoolgirls in the face and stomach. If nothing else, he’s certainly an equal opportunity bully. With a 135 minute running time, the film feels overlong, but the uniqueness should keep you from checking your watch.
A very fun and unique experience, Ai to Makoto is going to be a hard sell for most viewers. Its odd sense of humor and wild direction by Miike should get it noticed, but I doubt it will garner acclaim like his previous musical effort, The Happiness of the Katakuris. While I do feel that Miike’s less crazy films tend to be better productions, it is nice to see that he is still willing to tackle off the wall projects. Definitely the past couple years of Miike films have made him a better director and I certainly enjoy this film more than many of the films in his first decade of work; perhaps his best work is still to come.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: The Happiness of the Katakuris, Bebop High School, and/or Sukeban Deka