Sukiyaki Western Django
There are a lot of film genres around. Most of them can translate well from one culture to another. Then there are some that would appear to be specific to a certain time and place. You might think that the western is the definitive American type of movie. Most of the tales used in westerns come directly out of our past. You might see a cattle drive or a barroom brawl in a Wild West town. There are six shooters, loose women and enough machismo for all the male characters. In the mid-sixties this most venerable of American genres began to cross international borders and once Italy started making this type of film the spaghetti Western was born. Over the last few years, several other countries have begun to make their westerns. Recently I have seen movies from Poland and Asia using the themes and look typical to the American western. Now there is a Japanese variation that has hit the screen; ‘Sukiyaki Western Django.’ Now there have been blended genre flicks for a long time, but this one seems to be an international buffet. It is part samurai flick done as a spaghetti western. This may seem like an unlike receipt for success, but there is a solid rationalization going on here. Westerns and samurai movies have a long history of exchanging plots and fundamental characters. In 1960, just before the advent of the spaghetti western, there was a classic American western; ‘The Magnificent Seven.’ This was a reworking of the Akira Kurosawa's 1954 film, ‘Seven Samurai.’ The transition from the east too west was easier than you might think. Both had to do with honor in battle and the banding together of men cast off from their society working together for a greater good.
What Takashi Miike has done with this film is to take it a step further and use the motifs of the western Italian variation of the western as the basis of the movie. He has synthesized a merger between the styles of Kurosawa and Sergio Leone and come up with something that is exciting and completely different from any western you have ever seen. Just as a note Leone’s ‘Fist Full of Dollars’ was itself based on Kurosawa’s ‘Yojimbo’ so there is a firm basis for the work here. When blazing a new trail, there is a good bit of experimentation required, and Miike does well in it. There are some missteps along the way, but overall this is a strong piece of action entertainment. It was reportedly made with a budget of about $3.8 million and made the usual independent film festival rounds before a limited theatrical release here in the States. First Look Studios has released the DVD and Blu-ray editions of the film with a big marketing push. It is worth a try.
Coming up with the screenplay here is Takashi Miike and Masa Nakamura. Mike has one previous script; an action comedy. Nakamura has been writing for over a decade. Over that period he has worked with genres ranging from science fiction to drama and comedy. Together they took a close and detailed look at the masters in all participating genres. The story is extremely well done and holds together far better than you might initially think. They do borrow heavily from the masters and have crafted something that comes across as fresh; quite an accomplishment itself. What matters most is there is an underlying respect for the filmmakers who specialize in the source material. They do not appear to be ripping off the genres there is a dedication that comes across to do justice to the types of films they love. There is the mysterious gunman without a name who comes to the nearly deserted town. He winds up caught in a power struggle between two rival gangs. Naturally, there is a beautiful but deadly woman in case the violence and action aren’t enough to hold the attention of the male viewers. The basic characters are based on those in Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 spaghetti western, Django where the main character is known for the peculiar habit of dragging a coffin. The other part of the title, sukiyaki, refers to a Japanese beef dish typically cooked in a single pot. This appears to be a reference to cooking the genres together to prepare a new cinematic meal for the audience.
Mike has considerable experience as a director. Since 1991 he has racked up almost eighty directorial efforts to his name. Many have been direct to video films, and there was a television miniseries along the way. Many were crime dramas, but he has forayed into a broad spectrum of genres; some done with his writing partner here. This is his first English language film, and that is said with some reservations. The script was in English but the all Japanese cast appears to have memorized their lines phonetically. At times it is extremely difficult to catch what they are saying. Some degree of American acceptance will be had thanks to a spot appearance by Quentin Tarantino. Perhaps he found a kindred spirit with Miike since they both enjoy paying homage to their favorite filmmakers. They also are more than willing to help support the families of those who manufacture stage blood if you through ‘Kill Bill’ was a literal bloodbath wait until you get a load of this one. Every shot fired from the many six-shooters used here seems always to hit a major vein or artery. Blood pours out in copious quantities at every opportunity. There is also a little nod to a Tarantino classic shot used in ‘From Dusk to Dawn’ where he had a sizable hole shot through his hand. In this film, the hole is bigger and in the chest allowing ht gunman to aim through it to blow another man’s head off. Okay, at least they get an ‘A’ for imagination.
An unnamed gunman (Hideaki Ito) comes into the down on its luck mining town and offers his services to the two rival gangs. The first, Heike, headed by the less than brave Kiyomori (Koichi Sato) and the second, Ganji, lead by the smoother, more self-assured Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya). They both make offers hoping the gunman will not go rogue and betray them both. The local barkeeper, Ruriko (Kaori Momoi), is ready for an all-out war that will kill Kiyomoir who killed her son. Yoshitsune has taken up with his widow, Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura). This is not a happy little town. If the plot sounds familiar it should; it has replayed in many spaghetti westerns.
First Look Studios is going all out promoting the DVD release of this film. They have no less than six different packages to choose from; three cover art variations in regular or steelbook versions. There is also a Blu-ray release for those that want to see the blood splatter in high definition. This is a flawed production, but it is easy to overlook the mistakes because it is a good old fashion wild wide.
Posted 10/27/08 Posted 02/01/2019