Sukiyaki Western Django - Movie Review

  • 29 August 2008

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Takeshi Miike's spaghetti western mash-up, Sukiyaki Western Django, is a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma. This Ramen on the Range is Miike's first American feature, perversely cast with Japanese actors in 99 percent of the roles and instructed to speak in contorted English, rendering most of the dialogue indecipherable; it takes some getting used to to hear line readings like "It's dah end da da road for youi." The other 1 percent of the cast is the rabid American film geek director Quentin Tarantino, clearly having the time of his life like a ticket to Disneyland. Tarantino is Ringo, a lonesome roads gunslinger, who sets the stage for the tale and speaks in an equally indecipherable western dialect that becomes even more obscure during a long spiel concerning Gion Shoja temple bells, with Tarantino inexplicably lapsing into a thick, flannel-tongued Toshiro Mifune accent halfway through his oration.

Ringo engages in some mighty fancy gunplay concerning a rattlesnake and an egg in front of a blatantly false campfire set that looks like it came out of the old kids' show Riders in the Sky. He then commences to tell the tale of a pale rider (Hideaki Ito) with a garish gun who appears through a howling Kurosawa haze in a western town lorded over by two rival clans -- the red-garbed Heike clan, led by the psychotic Kiyomori (Koicho Sato), who insists that everyone call him Henry, and the white-garbed Gengi clan, led by the cool, sleek, walking-manga illustration Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya). Before this cryptic Man With No Name can utter, "You going to come at me or whistle Dixie?" he commences to play one clan against the other, and soon bullets, bodies, and blood fly through the air like an in-progress Jackson Pollock painting. As the schizophrenic town sheriff sings at one point as the cast reloads, "I die. You die. She dies. He dies. We all die."

If this all sound vaguely familiar, it should. After all, it is the plot of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, which, in turn, was lifted piecemeal from Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. Sukiyaki Western Django reclaims the spaghetti western birthright for Japan and reconstitutes it through the genre processor into a mutated form -- a samurai western, where pistols blaze like mini cluster bombs, samurai swords are twirled and tossed like prop guns at a cowboy circus, and the production design features a cowpoke heating up sukiyaki over a campfire while mockups of a yellow rising sun and Mt. Fuji hover in the background. This whiplash homage becomes ever more layered as references to Rio Bravo, Duel in the Sun, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Duck You Sucker, The Wild Bunch, and Sergio Corbucci's Django (among others), pop up like errant sagebrush blowing away with the next gun blast. But even Apocalypse Now and Rambo: First Blood Part II get into the mix with the actors uttering dialogue like "Smells like victory" and "This time we win." Miike is the maitre de at a zombie smorgasbord, with this western/samurai monstrosity consuming itself.

But Miike wouldn't be Miike if Sukiyaki Western Django were just a head-trip/no-exit homage. Violent is the word for Miike, and Miike ladles it on like a thick sauce. Punches hit like Bruce Lee chops, bones crack, and actors spew blood and gurgle. Miike obsesses over blunt objects finding their way through chest cavities. In one spectacular melee a sawed off shotgun blasts a hole through an hombre's chest, allowing another gunfighter to take aim through woebegone fellow's chest hole and blowing another guy's head off (okay, Miike likes Tex Avery too).

Once upon a time in the west (western New Jersey, actually), drive-ins would hold dusk-'til-dawn marathons, and often these four film debauches would feature collections of low-rent Leone knockoffs. One would go to these things, slump in the back seat with a bottle of cheap whisky and drink away the night. By the time the third feature rolled around, the images, bad dubbing, and blood-splattered action combined with the Old Grand-Dad to form a hallucinatory, feverish waking phantasmagoria. Sukiyaki Western Django re-imagines those glory days of boozy grandeur without breaking a sweat -- a brim-to-the-dregs midnight cult movie out of time and certainly out of (its) mind.

He brought a knife to a gunfight.

Image caption Sukiyaki Western Django

Facts and Figures

Year: 2008

Run time: 121 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 15th September 2007

Distributed by: First Look Studios

Production compaines: Sony Music Entertainment Japan, Dentsu Inc.

Reviews 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 55%
Fresh: 29 Rotten: 24

IMDB: 6.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Takashi Miike

Producer: Hirotsugu Tohya

Screenwriter: Masaru Nakamura, Takashi Miike

Starring: Hideaki Ito as Gunman, Masanobu Ando as Yoichi, Koichi Sato as Taira no Kiyomori, Kaori Momoi as Ruriko, Yûsuke Iseya as Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Renji Ishibashi as Benkei, Kimura Yoshino as Shizuka, Quentin Tarantino as Ringo

Also starring: Yusuke Iseya, Teruyuki Kagawa, Takashi Miike