Friday, July 25, 2008


As genres go, the western is one that I’m not particularly inclined to.
But when a director like Takashi Miike takes on a western, having his Japanese cast speak English (most, perhaps even all, phonetically), well, that’s a ride that’s pretty much irresistible.
The result is what is arguably one of his most stylized and bizarre films, and if you’ve seen Miike, you’ll know that’s saying a lot.
Miike’s ode to the spaghetti western (specifically, Sergio Corbucci’s Django), Sukiyaki Western Django dives into the conventions of the genre with cheeky glee and introduces us to the archetypical mysterious stranger (here dubbed “The Gunman,” and played by Shura Yukihime‘s Hideaki Ito) who arrives in a town besieged by the rivalry of two clans, the Heike and the Genji, as the colour-coordinated scoundrels vie for a legendary treasure of gold that may or may not exist.
What follows is a gonzo mash-up of western, comedy, and cartoon violence, with some Shakespeare thrown in for good measure.
It’s an interesting, though not altogether successful hybrid.

First off though, the film looks great, the most visually interesting feature I’ve seen from him thus far.
Shot by cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita (who also lensed Miike’s “Imprint” for Masters of Horror, and, curiously enough, three of Tyler Perry’s recent films), the arid brown palette of the conventional western is here punctuated with bursts of Technicolor lunacy, and some very atypical costume design by Michiko Kitamura, who worked on Miike’s Koroshiya Ichi (Ichi the Killer) and “Imprint,” as well as Kazuaki Kiriya‘s Casshern.
Oh, and since this is a Miike film, we get bursts and splashes of the warm red too.
But while the vibrant look of the film goes a long way in keeping the audience’s interest in the on-screen action, it’s in the humour where Miike kind of loses me.

Sukiyaki Western Django has that goofy Japanese sense of humour (seen in some of Miike’s oeuvre), only magnified, because of the choice of having the actors spout words and phrases like “skivvies,” “nook and cranny,” “lily-livered,” and “whistle Dixie” in their stilted, Japanese-accented English.
Fun, yes, perhaps even reminiscent of the English-dubbed spaghetti westerns that inspired the film, but a little too often, just plain distracting.
With that singular choice, Miike crosses the line to the no man’s land where the stylized narrative conventions a director chooses to utilize play out as contrived, calling undue attention to themselves and ultimately, the induced artificiality of the entire endeavour.
Much of Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror walked drunkenly on this line, and on occasion slipped over it. In Sukiyaki Western Django, the basic premise smashes through that line with oblivious glee, and could very well be the singular element of the film that could make or break a viewer’s approval.

There are also some other strange choices, like having the town sheriff (Kiraware Matsuko no issho‘s Teruyuki Kagawa) be a man quite literally divided, as not only is he caught between the two clans, he’s also apparently afflicted with a split-personality, a character note that’s played mostly for laughs and gets annoying and overly screwball very quickly.
Now, it’s entirely possible that the character of the sheriff is emblematic of the bizarre nature of the spaghetti western itself: an Italian co-opting of an American genre, a hybrid of two apparently disparate elements.
But even if that were indeed the case, the character itself is an annoying fixture in the film’s proceedings, only serving to compromise the work even further.
And then when Heike chief Kiyomori (Koichi Sato, from J-Horror entries Rasen and Kansen) really gets into Henry VI
I don’t know…
It should be noted though that I do appreciate the reversals going on here. That even as some of the most widely known spaghetti westerns looked to the samurai film for inspiration—such as Sergio Leone’s Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars) hearkening back to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo—so now does Miike tip his own sombrero back.

This may not have completely revved up my engine, but it’s a fun, rowdy homage just the same, and another freaky feather in the director’s aforementioned sombrero: though Miike is perhaps most widely known for the shocking transgressive cinema of films like Odishon (Audition) and Koroshiya Ichi, he’s also done J-Horror (Chakushin Ari; One Missed Call), ostensible family entertainment (Yokai Daisenso; The Great Yokai War), and straight-up drama (Sabu).
Miike is nothing if not prolific and versatile.
And to be perfectly honest, I’m constantly fascinated by Miike not necessarily because I love every film he does, but rather because they’re never boring and invariably prove to be interesting in one way or another.
Miike makes brave cinematic choices. Of course, not all those choices will turn out to be sound, but the mere fact that he’s willing to not only consider them, but also actually make them, highlights him in my books.

In the end, I may not exactly love Sukiyaki Western Django, but it’s safe to say I haven’t seen anything like it from Miike before, and I certainly didn’t see anything quite like it among its fellow 2007 films.
So if you’re willing to check out a brazenly visual western with the decidedly tangy flavour of stylized violence and screwball humour, a steaming bowl of Sukiyaki Western Django may be just your thing.
(And if you’re a QT fan, you’ll definitely want to see this…)

(Sukiyaki Western Django OS’s courtesy of and; cast image courtesy of


1minutefilmreview said...

Nice review. It's indeed a fun watch.

space monkey said...

thanx! glad you liked the review.

now, i'm curious to see how kim ji-woon's "the good, the bad and the weird" turns out.
(though i'm a big fan of kim's "a tale of two sisters" and his contribution to "three," i initially wasn't too hot about his western. now that i've seen miike's take on the genre, i'm interested to see kim's.)

and looking back, i'm also now thinking i should check out wisit sasanatieng's "tears of the black tiger," so i can have another point of comparison to "sukiyaki western django."