Sukiyaki Western Django review

:. Director: Takashi Miike
:. Starring: Hideaki Ito, Masanobu Ando
:. Running Time: 2:01
:. Year: 2007
:. Country: Japan


Sukiyaki Western Django is a strange little film. But then, one can say that about pretty much any movie made by enigmatic Japanese provocateur Takashi Miike. Making a career out of combining taboo representations of both horror and sexual perversion, all in the lowest of budget ways, Miike has stood out as a mad scientist of sorts in world cinema. Piecing together an impressively swarming array of action/horror flicks (often on a straight-to-video trajectory earlier on) like Dr. Frankenstein sewing together the legs, arms and abnormal brains of past and present cinema.

Though rather uneven in his ability to create consistent works, Miike has sustained quite the cult following in cinephiliac circles — including, most notably, filmmakers Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino. Sukiyaki though, is strange even when compared to the horror oeuvre of Miike's quite prolific (over 80 films in just 18 years) output as a director. Sukiyaki is not mere horror but a crossbreed of genres. A twisted hybrid of American revisionist western and Japanese samurai movie that is homage to both the jidai-geki films of Kurosawa and the blood orgies of Sergio Leone. Two genres that meet so readily that it is almost as if by cinematic kismet.

Of course this is more than mere kismet. Sukiyaki is a remake of sorts of Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, which in turn was a remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Aside from this connection (as well as another spaghetti western known simply as Django in which this film lifts more than a lot from) Miike's film also plays as reminiscent of sixties Japanese new wave filmmaking. One can easily see similarities in style to the batshitcrazy works of Seijun Suzuki and Shohei Imamura (the latter of which he studied under as a budding film school student). One can also see influences taken from the ubiquitous French Nouvelle Vague that had begun all the radicalism in cinema so prevalent in those aforementioned days of rebellion.

Sukiyaki is also one of the more interesting takes on the genuflectory cinema of contemporary filmmakers weaned on those same said new wave movements of the nineteen sixties. In semi-collaboration, and definitely in the same headspace, as that masturbatory maestro of Eastern cine-porn enthralled, cock & bull shitstorm moviemaking, Quentin Tarantino, Miike has gone so far as to actually cast QT in the Pai Mei role. It is Tarantino, dressed like a caricature of Eastwood's man-with-no-name and speaking as if every word is made of chewy-centered cement, who we first spy as the film begins to roll. Children of the same influences, Miike and Tarantino go together also as if by cinematic kismet.

As far as the actual story goes, remakes and homage aside, it is about a gunfighter who comes to a town run amok by two warring factions (one clad in white, the other in red) and offers to sell his services to the highest bidder. The most interesting tidbit of the film is the dialogue. This is a Japanese film full of Japanese actors (save for QT of course) many of whom speak no English (a trait that is also shared by the director himself) and yet everything is spoken in the most painfully accentuated phonetic English possible. In fact everyone is speaking as if every word is made of chewy-centered cement. Overall, unfortunately for both Miike and we the viewers, the film drones on and on and on in this stiff English without ever saying much of any interest to anyone.

We do get intermittent flashes of cinematic brilliance in both cinematography and editing (these are the moments that warrant the comparison to Kurosawa, Leone, Imamura and the like) which are just often enough to keep the droning parts from drowning the entire proceedings. These hankerin'-for-a-hunk-of-meat sequences play out like the brashest of samurai warriors set against the most porcelain of backdrops, making us miss them that much more when they are gone. We ache for the over-the-top circusy that is Miike's action-flaked fury. Perhaps Tarantino should have been enlisted as screenwriter for these non-action moments, but then again, could we expect the phonetic English to keep up with the whirling dervish dialogue that QT is known for.

Miike is quoted as saying, "I don't think about the audience, I don't think about what makes them happy, because there's no way for me to know. The people who think like this are old-fashioned. They think of the audience as a mass, but in fact every person in the audience is different. So entertainment for everyone doesn't exist". Perhaps this makes criticism of his work a moot point, but there you have it anyway. A bizarre genre-bending scruffy mongrel of cinema with flashes of awe-inspiring bravura and a bit too much of lazy screenwriting. Perhaps it can be labeled as adulation-for-adulation's-sake.

  Kevyn Knox

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