I am mad at director Hitoshi One. Really, really mad. I was really tired when I started watching Love Strikes!. I wanted to watch it, but I didn’t really want to watch it when I needed to. I needed something funny and lighthearted to watch. Something that would serve as an antithesis to the bleakness of films like Asura. Something like a crazy Japanese pseudo-musical romantic comedy. Love Strikes! probably isn’t the only movie to fit that bill, given how ridiculous Japanese films can be, but it’s the only one I’m currently aware of. So I watched it, and I was in absolute, blissful love. The music-video inspired scenes (complete with karaoke lyrics at the bottom of the screen). It pumped me up, and I was happy that I had just up and done it.
And then things changed, and it was a dramatic turn for the worse. Even moreso than with My Way, I was horrified how far off the rails Love Strikes! went. It’s so sad, and it makes me oh so mad.
[For the month of July, we will be covering the New York Asian Film Festival and the (also New York-based) Japan Cuts Film Festival, which together form one of the largest showcases of Asian cinema in the world. For our NYAFF coverage, head over here. For Japan Cuts, here.]
Love Strikes! (Moteki | モテキ)
Director: Hitoshi One
Yukiyo Fujimoto (Mirai Moriyama) is a 31 year old virgin, which in the Japanese entertainment industry apparently means that he is useless and a loser. He writes for an entertainment magazine called Natalie, where he covers music festivals and other such things. However, because he is useless and a loser, his boss says that he needs to go have sex with somebody so he will stop being so pathetic. Then he meets Miyuki (Masami Nagasawa), and he falls head-over-heels in love. Only problem is, Miyuki is taken. Obviously, that does absolutely nothing to stop him from pursuing her, because why would it? Destroying relationships is what love is all about, and some unpleasant and creepy advice from his boss certainly eggs him on.
At first the whole thing is kind of cute. A crazy dance number performed by Yukiyo, J-Pop group Perfume, and a bunch of random passersby is the highlight of the film, and it really brings some peppiness to the whole thing. It seems like Yukiyo’s relationship with Miyuki might go somewhere, so everything is all great and whatever. It’s an awesome scene, but it set my expectations too high. It comes in around the 30 minute mark, only a quarter of the way through the movie. No other scene even compared to the craziness. The first thirty minutes in general are all amazing. But of course, things go south, inside of the film and not.
For a while, I thought that Love Strikes! was what Honey Pupu should have been. It’s about young-ish people whose lives are defined by social media. As opposed to some bizarre twitter-esque social network, the characters in Love Strikes! just use Twitter. It’s how Yukiyo and Miyuki met, it’s how all sorts of interactions in the film happened. Whereas Honey Pupu goes off to be unnecessarily existential and meaningless, Love Strikes! finds takes the practicality of Twitter and injects it into all forms of interaction. It’s still definitely better than Honey Pupu, and better at doing some of the things Honey Pupu tried to do (including overexposing shots), but it’s got plenty of character flaws of its own.
I hate it when movies clearly want me to feel sympathetic for a terrible character. Something happens to them, and in some kind of montage of sadness or a lonely walk down an empty street or whatever, I can almost hear the filmmaker whispering “Awww, look at how unfortunate he is! Don’t you feel bad for him?” Sure, it’s something used in damn near every sad movie, but usually I will let it go, because usually there is a reason to feel bad. Maybe there’s some minor emotional manipulation, but that’s not always a bad thing. I’m perfectly content to feel sad when a character feels sad. Unless that character is terrible. Usually, I will say to that filmmaker, “Yes, I do.” But there are cases where I can’t do that. I want to turn around and shout, “Are you kidding me? Seriously? You want me to feel bad for this piece of shit? Stop breathing on me and go away.”
And that’s how I felt about Yukiyo. He sucks. He is beyond awful. He’s like the terrible protagonists in Supporting Characters, except even less likable. I would be remiss not to mention just how stupid he is. Basically everything he does at any point in the film is dumb. Sometimes it’s only kind of dumb; other times it’s amazingly dumb. His way of mishandling nearly every single situation would be laughable if he wasn’t such an awful person. The stupidity is just the tip of the iceberg though, because any time he is having any kind of interaction, it’s clear that he doesn’t care about anybody. Not even a little bit. Everything he does is selfish to the extreme, and there is one moment in particular where I wanted someone to walk up to him and smash his face in with a hammer. Then I remembered that I wasn’t watching a Korean movie and despaired. I was actually swearing at the screen, so unbelievably angry that anyone could be this terrible. I wanted some kind of terribly violent retribution. Maybe put him at the end of a Human Centipede, for example. He would completely deserve it.
There are moments where it seems like he might change, and the running voiceover that he has certainly makes it sound that way, but then he just gets worse. To give some sense of scale, the only character I’ve ever hated this much in a film was Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, and Jake LaMotta was/is the reason I can’t stand watching that movie. And at least Jake LaMotta got his face bashed in occasionally. There is nothing of the sort here. A rejection that gives him his sad montage did nothing but make me angrier. He deserved to die cold and alone. At that point, I wanted the film to leave him in his terrible state and go focus on another, better character.
Instead, it continues on with Yukiyo’s quest to ignore absolutely everything that anyone has said to him, and ends on one of the worst notes in recent memory. It wasn’t a freeze frame (that would be adding insult to injury), but it was somehow even worse. There are so many things wrong with the ending that I don’t know where to begin, and I can’t say much lest I spoil it, because I don’t want to do that if I don’t have to. What I will say is that absolutely nothing gets resolved. Some of the more interesting characters are completely forgotten by the time the ending comes around, and then Yukiyo’s final bid for Miyuki’s heart puts him in a position to have his ass handed to him (although the film decided not to give anyone the satisfaction of seeing that).
Apparently Love Strikes! is the follow-up to a TV series called Moteki (which is the film’s Japanese name), which is based on a manga of the same name. As far as I can tell, it followed Yukiyo doing things that are probably pretty similar to the movie. Maybe with more time, he could have been a more compelling character. Maybe the film decided to emphasize all of his bad traits rather than his good ones for reasons that I could never understand. If that’s true, that was a huge mistake. If that isn’t true, I have no idea why anyone thought that character deserved a movie.
When I wasn’t busy fuming about Yukiyo, I actually enjoyed Love Strikes! quite a bit. The other characters are interesting and the movie is often really funny. There is a lot of music, some of which is quite good and some of which is not so much, but it’s an integral part of the film and it works pretty well on the whole. Love Strikes! is a good (maybe even great) movie centered around an absolutely atrocious character. With every moment he is not physically brutalized for his terribleness, my opinion of the film dropped down just a bit. There’s a lot more I have to say, but I think I’ve said more than enough. Despite all my qualms, I still think the film is still worth watching, if only for the first 30 minutes.[Love Strikes! will be playing at the Japan Society on Saturday, July 13th at 7:15 PM and Sunday, July 22nd at 1:00 PM. The July 13th screen will be followed by a fancy party.]