Sukiyaki Western Django (2007- Japan / 2008 - USA)
Cowboys Vs. Samurai and Miike & Tarantino!
Japanese Cult Film Auteur is on fire! In the year 2007 he didn’t only release three completely different films (a pace he’s kept for the better part of this decade), but all three were minor masterpieces. Crows-0, and Ryû ga gotoku (Like A Dragon) have yet to be officially released in the USA but, Sukiyaki Western, Django, after setting the festival circuit on fire, has managed a limited release here in the States.
Django, which seems much like Miike’s answer to Tartantino’s Kill Bill series, is a remake/parody of Leone & Eastwood’s Western “Fist Full of Dollars” which was itself a remake of Akira Kurasawa’s Samurai film “Yojimbo”. All of the dialogue is in english and the actors, for the most part, the Japanese cast learned their lines phonetically, and drawl them out with fragmented flair, adding to the intentional camp value of the film. Additionally Miike’s normal “Looney Toons” brand of action and violence is turned up about 10 notches to bring out some of the most insanely staged gunfights put on film in quite sometime.
Django features a veritable who's who's list of Japan’s acting elite: Ito Hideaki (Umizaru), Sato Koichi (What the Snow Brings), Iseya Yusuke (Casshern), Ando Masanobu (Kids Return, Battle Royale), Oguri Shun (The Neighbor No. 13), Kagawa Teruyuki (Sway), and vetarans Ishibashi Renji and Momoi Kaori. Quentin Tarantino even cameos, as narrator.
The plot is pretty simple, and will be easily recognizable for fans of the ancestral films.
A mysterious and nameless but brilliant gunfighter (Hideaki) strolls into a town divided by two warring clans searching for it’s hidden treasure. The Heike (Red) led by hot-tempered Kiyomori (Koichi) and the Genji (White) led by criminally cool Yoshitsune (Yusuke).
The town’s inhabitants have mostly fled, but those that are left are caught in the middle of the conflict. The Gunfighter’s considerable skills are immediately recognized and all three factions vie for his allegiance.
But its not the plot that makes the film so enjoyable. It’s the irreverent way that Miike and crew just plow through each scene with wild eyed abandon, trouncing clichés, and non-sequitors equally. The action is filmed with a frenetic glee. This is a world where samurai swords can deflect bullets, and gunslingers can shoot crossbow bolts out of the air. Where Buddhist temples are built next to the town saloon, and where the gentle goddess “Bloody Benton” plays her instruments with both hands, but fires her pistols with all eight.
In one scene Yoshitsune tries to teach the White Clan to deflect sword strikes with only their hands, to predictable and hilarious results. The town sheriff, has a split personality and can’t seem to stay dead, and argues within himself “well it’s you who’s going to die next time.” “No its not, it’s YOU!”. Then there is the hero who can jump out of second story windows and land on his steed in mid gallop (aided by some very cool trick photography). Prisoners are strung up on the Bhuddist arches at the front of town.
The set design and costuming is impressive mixing traditional Japanese period pieces with clichéd “American Old West”, mixed with some off kilter avante-gaurde touches.
As wild as the aesthetic is, everything and everyone seem to fit. The only thing out of place is Ito Hideaki’s Gunslinger, but then that’s the point.
The film slows a bit between the second and third acts – but once it gets up and running again, the Final shoot out is stunning as it builds up to a fantastic Gun Vs Sword battle in the snow.
Sukiyaki Western Django is not a perfect film, it’s not even a great film. But it’s so wickedly fun that its easy to get caught up in the flow and enjoy the ride. It’s definitely everything that you would imagine a successful team-up between Miike and Tarantino would be. Miike’s on a roll this year and this is prime evidence.
Sukiyaki Western Django is in limited release now, with a US dvd release November 11, 2008.