Sukiyaki Western Django

English Title: Sukiyaki Western Django

Original Title: Sukiyaki Uesutan Jango

Country of Origin: Japan

Studio: First Look Studios

Director: Takashi Miike

Producer(s): Hirotsugu Yoshida, Toshinori Yamaguchi, Nobuyuki Tohya , Masato Ôsaki, Toshiaki Nakazawa

Screenplay: Masa Nakamura, Takashi Miike

Cinematographer: Toyomichi Kurita

Art Director: Nao Sasaki

Editor: Taiji Shimamura

Runtime: 98 min. (Internation minutes

Genre: Western/Action

Starring/Cast: Quentin Tarantino, Koichi Sato, Kaori Momoi, Hideaki Ito, Yusuke Iseya

Year: 2007

Volume: Japanese

Synopsis:
A lone gunman (Hideaki Ito) arrives in a town laid to waste by two warring clans, and offers his services to the highest bidder. The Heikei and Genji clans are both after the town treasure, and neither of the two proves to be more appealing than the other. The town’s inn-keeper, Ruriko (Kaori Momoi) steps in to suggest that the gunman does not need to side with either clan since he is so skilled with his weapon. She advises him to get some rest at her inn, and think it over before making his choice. There, the gunman meets Heihachi, the Heikei-Genji ‘half-breed’ grandson of Ruriko. Boss Kiyomori (Koichi Sato), leader of the Heikei clan has murdered his father, and boss Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya) of the Genji clan has pushed the boy’s revenge seeking mother, Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura), into prostitution. The Gunman sympathises with the plight of mother and child and decides to play both clans against each other in order to avenge them.


Critique:

Sukiyaki Western Django is a deliberate play on reclaiming the genre that was effectively hijacked from Japanese cinema when Sergio Leone remade Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) as A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Leone’s film was a shameless imitation, even in its novel, unromantic depiction of the Wild West, an element that Kurasawa had created in Yojimbo to deglamorise the popular Chūshingura Samurai films. In spite of the lawsuits filed by Kurosawa and Toho Studios, the success of A Fistful of Dollars launched the careers of both Leone and star Clint Eastwood, as well as the endless production of cheap, Italian-funded gunslinger movies which eventually became known as Spaghetti Westerns.

                                                   

There is no singly consistent element stringing together Takashi Miike’s work, except perhaps his penchants for the shock factor, derived from gory sadism to twisted comedy and often a disturbing combination of the two. So it is not surprising that Sukiyaki Western Djnago is another oddball creation, which could only have been pulled off by Miike. Not merely because of the sheer absurdity of its conception but because without a justifying name like Takashi Miike to be attributed to, the film would not have been received so forgivingly. Do not expect to find character depth or an engrossing and beautifully developed story. Do expect to find stock characters, and a conventional plot riddled with sometimes predictable but often deliciously random references to clichés of Western and Japanese cinema.

 

Miike’s biggest misjudgement was perhaps his decision to shoot this film in phonetically pronounced English. The dialogue is dubbed, creating a lack of synchrony between discourse and its visual expression. Furthermore, for the predominantly Japanese-speaking cast, the challenge of having to deliver their lines hinders their performances altogether, with the actors’ laboured delivery and erratic pronunciation, often making the result embarrassing.

On a positive note, the crowning glory of the film, is its visuals, with costumes alone being worthy of mention. Clan members, in their elaborate neo-Kabuki cum Cowboy attire, tattoos and body Jewellery, look like something in between Visual Kei J-rock bands and Bōsōzoku biker gang youth.

 

Something of a parody, but without the silliness of a spoof, Sukiyaki Western Django’s skilful merging of transnational themes isn’t merely restricted to Westerns and Samurai films, but is a statement on the reciprocal borrowing between Japanese and Western culture in general. Look out for laugh-out-loud moment where Tarantino admits to being an ‘anime Otaku’ -a term used to describe fan-boys of anime and manga, similar to a comic-book nerd. Needless to say, the viewer’s ability to pick up on such cultural reference points will add to an appreciation of the film, and not being aware of them will simply make one wonder why Takashi Miike needed to further exhaust the genre with such an unremarkable reworking.

Author of this review: Elest Ali