SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (2007) is Takashi Miike's spin on the Asian Western. While it may not be a wholly original idea, video games have experimented on this mixing of genres such as "Western Samurai", Eiichi Kudo's Fort of Death (1969) and the nearest attempt at an Asian western is Hong Kong's "Peace Hotel"; Miike's version is worth the buzz and the hype. The film exudes coolness and is surprisingly entertaining, it is a fitting tribute to Spaghetti westerns ("Sukiyaki" instead of "spaghetti") and chambara (samurai) period films. Also, a certain American director who loves Asian films makes an appearance as a cowboy who eats a pot of sukiyaki. That's right, Tarantino makes an appearance as a man named Pringo (a play on Pierrot and Ringo), this man certainly knows Miike's work and has repeatedly expressed that he is a fan of the acclaimed Japanese director.
Two opposing clans, the Genji and Heiki clans have taken control of a town called Nevada. Nope, this is a Japanese Nevada where the inhabitants' native tongue is English, they`re all Japanese folks with hybrid western-Asian outfits and Japanese monikers. A lone drifter (Hideyaki Ito), who is also very good with a gun, enters the town and is forced to pick a side. The stranger is so skilled that his joining an opposite clan would most likely tip the scales. The two rival gangs (eh, clans) are fighting over a legendary hidden chest of treasure and they have driven out almost all inhabitants except for a woman named Ruriko and the eccentric town sheriff.
Sniff some Kurosawa, inhale some Gosha with a whiff of Okamoto and take 2 tablespoons of Sergio Leone three times a day; and what you have a mixed genre-busting film which blends the grittiness and coolness of spaghetti westerns with the moodiness and atmosphere of chambara/jidai geki films that is the cure for boredom. The film is a push to remind the Italians of the eternal debt they owe to Japanese Samurai films. Put a dash of a Katana sword, a Gatling gun, a lot of dynamite, gunfights and characters that are outrageously cool and you have the perfect recipe for the epitome of Asian cult films with (maybe) mass-mainstream appeal. The films' main premise itself is YOJIMBO-like or "Fistful of Dollars" if you prefer.
The set designs are also quite curious and very creative. The architecture of the buildings are definitely hybrids of Japanese feudal design with the usual western style. Shakespeare's War of Flowers is taken as a code of Bushido (?). The costumes are anime-inspired in their own way with a strong touch of western cinema except for the main character. Legends and mysticism also play a small part in this genre-busting extravaganza. The film definitely crosses all boundaries and the film never limits itself. The action has a touch of hard-boiled cool with the usual bullet ballet and the film's proceedings have the Tarantino-like sly and twisted humor.
Hideyaki Ito (Uzimaru 2) plays the stranger and the man definitely can pull off the essentials of a mysterious drifter. Kaori Moimoi (Love and Honor) plays a mysterious woman named Ruriko who is the mother of the deceased Akira who was also the husband of sexy Shizuka, played by Yoshino Kimura. This actress exudes raw sex appeal and has the characteristics of an ice-cold femme fatale. The camera work is excellent, Miike assisted by cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita is very impressive. The movements are fluid, facial expressions have a solidarity and the music itself calls a lot of attention.
It is a little weird that Miike would shoot this film with the performers speaking English since I've read that the man grew up watching dubbed Italian films, and disliked it. The delivery in dialogue is somewhat wanting and Miike is a master of movement as displayed in "Izo" and "Dead or Alive". I wanted to watch the film with subtitles and I found myself rewinding a few times to hear the dialogue again just so I won't miss any of the wonderful visuals. Most of the cast mumble almost phonetically and it was obvious that only Yoshino Kimura is the only one really skilled with the English language. The dialogue may hamper the film a little but believe me, not by much.
The plot itself may be a little too simple and offers not too much for the imagination. Much of the character development occurs in the form of storytelling and flashbacks. The film does exercise more on style over substance but the film is a successful exercise in freedom and versatility. The stunning visuals and camera work surpasses its spirit that some viewers may find the film a bit passive and is too commercially superficial. However, the nice and VERY cool touches in the screenplay hides its shortcomings. The legend of "Bloody Benten" (a woman who can give Lady Snowblood a run for her money), the mystery of Pringo, the duel between a six-shooter and a katana sword, the tale of a young boy and the unknown drifter adds a lot of quality to the film with pure popcorn entertainment. Fans of Asian cinema and Western movies will be busy enjoying the sequences and undoubtedly look for references from other cult films. If you've seen the other genre-breaking film "Versus", you may have an idea of what you're in for. The film has more style than substance, but it is an excellent display of Takashi Miike's more mainstream goals. The film has the crowd-pleasing appeal but will undeniably develop a cult following.
"Sukiyaki Western Django" is a successful blend and fusion of genres that delivers pure enjoyable entertainment, despite the bad English delivery. Takashi Miike has pulled it off again...and forgiven for the "Great Yokai War". (Zebraman anyone?)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! [4+ stars]
Note: The film is known is also known as "My Life as McMug" in Malaysia. Make certain you see the film with English Subs because while the dialogue is in English, it's a bit hard to make it out. I believe it may have been done intentionally.
The U.S. release will feature multiple covers (including steel/tin book covers, I double-dipped on the Bloody Benten cover) and will carry terrific English subtitles.
However, the GENEON region-2 Dvd I have from Japan clocks in at 120 minutes, the U.S. release has been edited to 98 minutes. While the U.S. release is a little more faster-paced, the uncut edition does have more Character development, Extended action sequences and has a better fleshed-out story.