SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO

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Reviews

Giving new meaning to the term “over the top,” director Takashi Miike’s loving homage to spaghetti westerns and samurai movies is utterly ridiculous, but incredibly watchable and tons of fun. Not even remotely for mass audiences, it is nonetheless a beautifully directed, wonderfully stylized film that will find a real fan base with hipsters and anyone who knows the difference between Django and The Man With No Name.

Plot takes second place to posturing in Sukiyaki Western Django, but the film is essentially a riff on Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (and its Sergio Leone clone, A Fistful of Dollars), in which a lone, black-clad gunman (Hideaki Ito) rides into a western town dominated by two warring clans. As in the source material, the solitary hero plays both sides off against each other, until there’s hardly a living soul left in the village.

In addition to the clan leaders—half-mad Kiyomori (Koichi Sato) and sleek-as-a-male-model Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya)—the key players include Ruriko (Kaori Momoi), a retired female gunfighter now running the local general store, and Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura), a saloon dancer whose husband was killed by Kiyomori. Plus, as if to establish its cult bona fides, there’s a nice juicy part for Quentin Tarantino, playing a gunslinger who narrates the
whole story.

Sukiyaki Western Django is filled with blood-splattering gun battles and plenty of arch dialogue, in which the English-speaking Japanese cast deliver lines like “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” and “So the meaning of life is shit happens?” with almost Shakespearean seriousness. Miike’s film is also blessed with spectacular, and sometimes eccentrically colored, photography by Toyomichi Kurita, and production designer Takashi Sasaki’s completely original, ronin-goes-Nevada settings.

Now a swift 99 minutes, down from the two-hour running time it had when it played at the Venice Film Festival, Sukiyaki Western Django is a real hoot, but suffers from one serious flaw: The accents of some of its cast members are difficult to penetrate. Here’s one picture that might have been better off subtitled.

Yet for buffs, none of this will matter. They’ll have a grand old time just trying to figure out the film references, which include, in addition to Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Quick and the Dead, Kill Bill, Sergio Corbucci’s Django, and even A Duel in the Sun. It’s weird and wonderful—homages don’t get much better than this.