Takashi Miike is Japan’s most controversial director. He is also greatly admired by Quentin Tarantino (who costars in this film), and by Eli Roth (director of Hostel and costar of Inglorious Basterds). His most famous work in the West? The gut-wrenching horror film, Audition. These are probably reasons enough for many viewers to steer clear of Miike’s gunslinger samurai film (or is it Japanese Western?). However, to judge Miike’s film right off as an explosive display of hyper-violence would be to deeply miss an exciting and artistically significant film that is certainly worth viewing.
The western and samurai genres have long been intertwined, with Kurosawa films inspiring such western classics as The Magnificent Seven, Last Man Standing and A Fistful of Dollars (based on Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, respectively). Cowboy films have inspired countless anime, including Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. And both genres have been combined in Tarantino’s revenge fantasy, Kill Bill. However, this film may be the most forward, or at least self-conscious blend of the two ever to be presented in cinema.
The story is set in Nevada, which is subsequently set in Japan, and features a cast of all Japanese actors –and Quentin Taratino. It is a similar story to Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. There is a small Japanese town (which, in this film, is also a small Nevadan town), two corrupt, opposing sides, and a lone hero, brilliant in arms and wooed by both forces. The hero, of course, rejects the two sides and chooses to duke it out against all the baddies. Of course, a beautiful girl influences his decision, and a mysterious female warrior, trained by a once-mighty fighter (played by a bizarre Tarantino), shoots it out with him in an extended fight that can be described as nothing but truly epic.
The story itself is not quite as strong as the films it alludes to, however. The main character never quite moves beyond archetype (though this may have been intentional, but even The Bride from Kill Bill has individuality), and some aspects of the story just do not make sense. I couldn’t understand the sheriff’s split personality for the life of me. However, there are some pretty snappy lines (“Red. My favorite color.”) and the pace is fast and full of action, making the film very fun to watch.
The visuals, however, are what really make this film what it is. The two opposing sides divide by uniform colors, and these colors, red and white, create great contrast throughout the film. The cinematography is very stylized, like Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, with some self-conscious epicness that is actually very entertaining. The fight scenes, however, are the best part. They are seamlessly choreographed, intentionally over-the-top (very much like Kill Bill), and both compelling when necessary as well as often morbidly hilarious (as when one man gets a sword in his head for being too slow in a training exercise). Miike, while being artistic in his cinematography and color pallet, understands that he is not making a serious movie. He is playing with the archetypes of his genres in an intentionally exaggerated, almost slapstick way. While this gore may still bother some viewers (it is unrelenting), it is not in the least realistic and is quite funny in many places.
Sukiyaki Western Django isn’t an everyday film, and probably not one you want to take your first date to (in most cases). But, while the plot isn’t always even, it is a rollicking, fun film with artistic flair and stylish cinematography that will grab cinemaphiles looking for a bit of fun.
Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) stars Hideaki Ito, Masanobu Ando, Koichi Sato, Kaori Momoi, and Quentin Tarantino