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2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Sukiyaki Western Django
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by Jay Seaver

"There's been spaghetti westerns, so why not a sujiyaki western?"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: As much as I love Takashi Miike for being an outrageous filmmaker who does unpredictable things, I sometimes wonder if that can be a double-edged sword. "Sukiyaki Western Django" is unabashedly a gimmick movie; if you've heard about it at all it's probably for all the crazy things that Miike and company do. The thing you might not expect is that there's a darn near great spaghetti western not far underneath the craziness. Yes, it's easy to love this movie as camp, and I wouldn't trade any of the insanity away, but it's easy to overlook the fact that this movie would be pretty cool without the swordplay, schizophrenic sheriff, or that weird baby-in-a-flower image.

Gimmick number one is Quentin Tarantino, who appears in the movie's opener as a gunslinger who tells the tale to a group that passes by while he's preparing his sukiyaki. There was a town, Donourra (located either in Japan or Nevada) that was besieged by two rival gangs, the red-clad Heike and white-wearing Ganji, just like in England's War of the Roses. Both had heard there was treasure to be found, but their fighting has emptied the town out of almost all its original inhabitants. They stayed locked in this stalemate until a lone, nameless gunslinger (Hidesaki Ito) came to town, offering his considerable services to whoever paid the best. Cowardly Heike leader Kiyomori (Koichi Sato) and charismatic Ganji boss Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya) both make offers, warning him not to "play Yojimbo". Local barkeep Ruriko (Kaori Momoi) seems to be hoping for just that, though - Kiyomori killed her son Akira (Shun Oguri) and Yoshitsune is keeping Akira's beautiful widow Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura) as his woman, and their son hasn't spoken since.

Gimmick number two is that, though the entire cast other than Tarantino is Japanese, they're all speaking English, often not all that well. While some members of the cast seem to have a fairly decent command of the language - Iseya and Kimura could probably work in Hollywood if they wanted to - others, well, are pretty clearly reading their lines phonetically and place the emphasis in all the wrong places. Miike plays into this for camp value - it's less fluent Sato's Kiyomori that starts reciting Shakespeare and insisting on being called "Henry", for instance, and at one point even Tarantino starts imitating his visitors' cadence. The audience got a kick out of it, though I'm curious how well it plays without a large audience or whether most of the film's original Japanese audience realized there was a joke going on.

There are some just plain weird characters, too. Teruyuki Kagawa, for instance, plays the town's sheriff, and what initially seems like a normal habit of talking to himself quickly becomes nasty arguments in two separate voices; pretty impressive when you consider that he sometimes has problems getting the words out. He also takes an incredible amount of slapstick abuse. Kiyomori is probably the wussiest gang leader in western history, cowering behind the sheriff or other gang members and making comments about fattening them up. Yoshisune, on the other hand, is flamboyant and daring, looking for a challenge. Then there's the old man in the mountains, with his steampunked-out motorized wheelchair, and the most hilariously anachronistic line of the film.

Despite all that going on, Miike isn't playing around when it comes time to kick the action into gear. Yes, there are a few trick goofy shots and wounds that aren't as instantly fatal as they should be, given their size. He knows what's cool, though, and the last act would do Sergio Leone proud with its betrayals, showdowns, and gunslingers making their way through town, taking out the gangs with single shots in a cool rage. It's a good-looking dusty desert town, shot in widescreen and livened up with splashes of color from the Heikes' and Ganjis' outfits.

Ito is well-cast as the nameless gunfighter; he knows he's good without having to show off and carries himself accordingly, and Ito handles both his more mercenary and altruistic sides well. Kaori Momoi sometimes steals the show as Ruriko, one of those "characters with a secret" that feels convincingly more natural - and far cooler - when it comes out. Iseya and Sato are treats as the opposing gang bosses, good for laughs without ever becoming non-threatening.

All the pieces are there for a good time if Miike had opted to make a straight western, and "Sukiyaki Western Django" can be enjoyed as one, just as the spaghetti westerns could. But it would be kind of a waste to have one of cinema's mad geniuses forgo the madness, and the craziness makes this the sort of western a person won't soon forget.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16449&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/04/08 10:34:03
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/15/09 The Grinch I like Miike, but this film was just too gimmicky and jarring 3 stars
8/06/09 millersxing Very funny send-up of spaghetti westerns done that brings to mind Bubba Ho-tep (in tone) 4 stars
7/08/09 mr.mike The review nailed it : delivers the goods. 4 stars
1/09/09 Shaun Wallner Very Interesting 4 stars
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  DVD: 11-Nov-2008


  DVD: 11-Nov-2008

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