Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Sukiyaki Western Django review

Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)
Dir. Takashi Miike
Staring: Hideaki Ito, Kōichi Satō, Yusuke Iseya, Takaaki Ishibashi

A gunman (Ito) gets drawn into a war between two gangs, the red dressed Heike and the white dressed Genji, who are at war over the town of Yuta, Nevada, in this Japanese homage to the classic spaghetti westerns.

Takashi Miike tends to always be in work on a something. As of right now he has 98* directorial credits, which is impressive for someone who started in 1991. Most of this is due to his insane output of films, usually 3 or 4 films per year, with some music videos and television work thrown in as well. But one of the most interesting things about his career is how varied his filmography is. He has made horror films like Audition and Gozu, over the top action films like Full Metal Yakuza or the Dead or Alive trilogy, movies that break taboos and push the boundaries of good taste like Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer, dramatic Samurai films like Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai or the extremely well received 13 Assassins. and family friendly like his superhero Zebraman, Yatterman, or the fantasy film The Great Yokai War. This film was one of four that he directed in 2007, and at first it’s odd that Miike would make a western, but then again when you look at all the genres he has tackled and the diverse nature of his filmography it does start to make sense. The story is typical spaghetti western stuff, and in terms of action it excels. The movie’s main concern is looking cool and featuring cool characters, which it does. But it is a good tribute/homage to the spaghetti western eras, mainly Django and the Man with No Name films, but the most surprising thing was the post script is straight out of Django Meets Sartana. But the good thing about the film is that it is able to tell its own story without feeling redundant of what came before, mainly due to Miike’s creative insanity giving the movie a fresh feel. Once you know the set up you know how things are going to play out, and when things are revealed about characters later in the movie you aren’t surprised, but it doesn’t feel like something you’ve seen before. This might be due to the novelty of a Japanese cast, and how the film transposes the events of the Genpei War to a western setting. 

The biggest problem (and most frequent complaint from other viewers) about the film is caused by the choice to have the Japanese cast deliver their lines in English. While some of the cast does a decent job, some are not as good as others and it causes some confusion.  I understand the reasoning behind it, since most of the spaghetti westerns this film is an homage were in English, but really the film suffers due to it and it would probably be better had the film be shot with the actors working in the native tongue and dubbing it into English in post production, just like what was done with the original spaghetti westerns. It is interesting that in the Japanese release version, while all the original actors dub themselves, Quentin Tarantino’s character Pringo is dubbed my Miike himself. But the funny thing about the movie is that even with the dialogue problems, Quentin Tarantino is still not the best actor in movie. The leads of the film seem more confident at acting in English than he does, which is a great achievement due to them reciting lines that the learned phonetically.

The lead of the movie is Hideaki Ito as the heroic gunfighter. He comes into town in kind of the Django/Man with No Name style (which makes sense due to this movie being an homage to those films), and the ending where he finally cuts loose and starts to fight is very cool and very well shot. Other than that he is just mainly roaming around town learning about other characters and looking cool. Yusuke Iseya plays Yoshitsune, the leader of the Genji, and he is really good in the role. He and Ito are probably the best in terms of acting through the language barrier, and Iseya gives his character a bit of swagger like a rock star that makes him very memorable. His fight with the gunfighter at the end of the film is very cool, and different.

While I can’t say that Sukiyaki Western Django is a great film, since the positives about it don’t outweigh its flaws. But the funny thing about it is even though I don’t think that it is one of Miike’s best movies, it would probably be one of the easiest of his films to recommend to someone that has never seen due to it not being overly extreme in terms of violence and sexual content. But it’s still pretty entertaining, and the climatic action scene is awesome. It’s a mixed bag.

*granted, some of his credits are music videos, but still his output for any year is impressive. He usually gets out at least 2 or 3 feature length productions, which is incredible. The quality of the films is another matter all together.

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