Fantasia 2012 – For Love’s Sake Review (Matt Hodgson)

Fantasia Film Festival 2012

For Love’s Sake (2012)

Starring Satoshi Tsumabuki, Emi Takei, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Takumi Saito, Ito Ono

Directed by Takashi Miike

Making my way to Montreal on a very high tech snail provided by VIA Rail Canada, I could not have been more excited for the 16th annual Fantasia International Film Festival to kick-off. My preference in film has always been horror, but I’m open to viewing nearly anything. However, nothing could prepare me for the opening night film, For Love’s Sake. Billed as a violent and comedic musical, on paper For Love’s Sake sounded insane and like nothing I had ever seen before. The trepidation that I was feeling for a screening this odd was ratcheted up to full blown excitement when I discovered that it was directed by Fantasia veteran, Takashi Miike.

Adapted from the manga Ai To Makoto, created by Ikki Kajiwara, For Love’s Sake tells the story of Ai (Emi Takei) and Makoto (Satoshi Tsumabuki), who keep meeting under the strangest circumstances. The first time they met, when they were young children years, Makoto saved Ai from a trip down the ski slopes which very well could have ended Ai’s life if Makoto had not intervened. Despite his good deed, Ai and Makoto don’t really get along. Ai certainly tries to get along with Makoto, but the fact that she comes from a wealthy family and is at the top of her class seems to put-off the hardened Makoto, who is really the polar-opposite of Ai. Makoto is angry, rude, poor, but his worst trait is certainly his penchant for solving problems with his fists. In fact when Makoto and Ai meet for the second time, nearly a decade after the skiing accident, it is in the midst of a Grease/West Side Story gang confrontation in which Makoto brutalizes a large group of young men, while also singing a song. Did you forget it was a musical? Recognizing the violent young man and dedicating herself to him immediately, Ai decides that she will do anything in her power to save Makoto from himself.

As suspicious as I initially was about attending the screening of a musical, I have to say that overall For Love’s Sake was pleasantly surprising. The first musical number was used to introduce present-day Makoto and Ai, but it was a little underwhelming, making me think I was in for a long night. However, subsequent numbers were some of the most entertaining bits of comedic filmmaking that I have seen in a while. Specifically, the hopelessly romantic student (Takumi Saito), who would pursue Ai to the end of the earth, and a powerful brawler (Tsuyoshi Ihara) provided some of the biggest laughs with their intentionally ridiculous performances. Despite this incredible entertainment, For Love’s Sake does not speed by. At 133 minutes it feels like it could have lost up to 30 minutes in the writing phase or in the editing room. Also of concern is the almost complete disappearance of the musical numbers from the second half of the film. I understand that Miike is legendary for mixing genres and giving audiences an original movie experience, but For Love’s Sake was working so well as a musical that it was really disappointing to see it completely switch gears.

Worth checking out for fans of Miike and those who would like to see a violent musical, For Love’s Sake was certainly an interesting experience at the cinema. I’ll remember the energetic and hilarious first half for years, but I wish I could say the same about the rest of it.

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Smuggler Review TIFF 2011 (Sumagurâ: Omae no mirai o erabe)

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Katsuhito Ishii’s Smuggler got off to a strange start at Midnight Madness. For one, the print of the film had not arrived by midnight and the rowdy MM audience got some extended burn with the beach ball that is normally bounced around the seats before the show. The film ended up starting at 1am, a full hour late, but was prefaced by an unexpected standup comedy performance from one of the ticket holders. Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, the director of god bless america, saved the day by entertaining the audience during the delay and even though I had some reservations about his film, I have to admit that the man is funny as hell. It was a pleasure to be present for his impromptu performance.

When it was finally time for Ishii to introduce the film, he was bouncing back and forth on the stage in either excitement, nervousness, or both. He was up on stage for a good minute, but I’m not even sure if he said ten words. If the time spent in my seat, waiting for Smuggler to start, could be called weird, then the actual content of the film was downright insane.

Smuggler is about a young compulsive gambler named Kinuta (Satoshi Tsumabuki) who gets wrongly trapped with an enormous debt from Yakuza members. Kinuta used to be an aspiring actor, but with his new found debt, he is forced to take any job that comes his way. What at first seems like a garbage hauling job, is actually a job transporting mutilated bodies from bloody Yakuza hits. Unfortunately for Kinuta, the nature of his new employment causes him to cross paths with two of the underworld’s deadliest killers, vertebrae (Masanobu Andô) and viscera.

To say that the style of Smuggler is unique would be a massive understatement. I have never seen any of Ishii ‘s other films (Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl, The Taste of Tea and Funky Forest: The First Contact, to name a few), but going by their names and the reaction of his fans during the screening, I’m sure that Smuggler was ‘normal’ Ishii. I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to describing the actual content of the film. Very cool slow motion action sequences were combined with inordinate amounts of saliva flying out of the mouths of combatants. Violent torture sequences were carried out by a villain in a ridiculous costume, what looked like a diaper and half a marching band uniform. Finally, the dialogue can feel very serious at times and completely ridiculous at others. All of these factors, and others, make Smuggler an interesting experience, but one in which I felt I was missing out on most of the jokes.

I’m not sure if my inability to understand many of the jokes was a result of my limited experience with Ishii films, or if it was a cultural humour that was somewhat lost in translation. Regardless of the reason, I will be going back in Ishii’s filmography to see what I have been missing. Perhaps later I will be able to revisit Smuggler and form some sort of opinion, but until then, I do not have anything too positive or too negative to say about the film. Although, I think that Ishii fans should flock to see Smuggler, as some audience members were laughing hysterically throughout the entire film.

 

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