Sukiyaki Western Django
directed by Takashi Miike
starring Hideaki ItÃ´, Masanobu AndÃ´, KÃ´ichi SatÃ´
There’s a little of everything in this stylish, richly produced Japanese Western postmodern gem of a film. A desolate western town is spit in two, and a dead body hangs over the city gate, just to be safe. Under it rides our unnamed drifter. I think of him as “The Stranger” (ItÃ´). In this snowy urbanization two factions vie for the rich deposit of gold it holds. I’d describe The White Team as a desperate band of unscrupulous thieves while The Red Team rests on its amoral reputation as cutpurses. When the Stranger appears, he negotiates back and forth for his services. But he never really commits to a side, and that leaves options open. Soon his disturbing presence sends bodies and bottles and blood left right, up down and all around the town. The town prostitute offers to settle the dispute in favor of one color or another, but negotiation is hard when all you have to negotiate with are Gatling guns and samurai swords.
If you watch the special features, and I highly recommend them, you’ll get a sense of where this movie comes from. Yes, it’s a remake of a classic Japanese story, and it draws on the spare elements of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. Director Miike even brings up Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, a play about weak government and a bad king. While bodies fly the films colors are subtly boosted to advance the emotional. Meanwhile both character and plot to keep you interested if not horrified. Emotional angle are driven home by the orphaned children, unable to speak due to the horrors of their parents’ demise. Sex scenes pop up from time to time, releasing the tension of the otherwise never ending warfare. As the battles continue and the cast shrinks, the remaining combatants discover a cache of handheld Gatling guns. Some of these ultra-warriors can shoot two of the at the same time like Sly Stallone on hormones. I looked it up, one Gatling gun weighs 140 pounds, not counting there “Infinite Magazines” that never run out of bullets. If you like guns, you’ll be in Firepower Heaven with this flashy film.
Miike’s innovative camera shots entertain, and the unexpected angles add to the action as panel layout makes graphic novels thrust and parry. Colors shimmer; scenes are inked in reds and browns and wheat straw yellow washes. Lighting sets emotional tone but you have to look twice to notice it; clearly Miike knows his chops. He’s next in a long line of artists adding new technique to samurai film. Clearly these films are timeless.
Do I know who the actors are, or the set designers or the Second Unit Team? No. That’s uninteresting. But the style soars. Men fall off of houses, women fall off of men. Everyone speaks constantly and they see no reason no reason not to. Lead poisoning will kill most of the cast so day your piece while you can. This over the top, action adventure film looks better than any classic American Western. That’s what I love about the Japanese: give them an idea, and they will run it round the earth and make it ten times better.