would think from the critical response Tarantino practically invented both
Spaghetti westerns and blaxploitation in Django Unchained. Yet, he is hardly the
first director to pay tribute to Corbucci’s Django. Takeshi Miike staked out some pretty
eccentric homage territory first with Sukiyaki Western Django (trailer
a film Tarantino must be aware of, since he appears in it. In fact, he stinks up the joint with an
excruciatingly shticky too-big-to-be-a-cameo supporting turn. Perhaps that is why his amen chorus has doggedly
ignored such an obvious comparison film.
We don’t play favorites here, especially when Miike’s flawed SWD is so doggone interesting and
readily available on DVD.
SWD, Miike cranks up the action
somewhere between a cartoon and a video game, with stuff flying through the air
and characters occasionally blowing holes through each other big enough to
stick your arm through. Hideaki Ito is
the archetypal man with no name, who swaggers into town, finding his skills
sought after by the rival Genji (white) and Heike (red) clans—essentially
returning A Fistful of Dollars back
to its Yojimbo roots. Listening to offers but staying
non-committal, the gunslinger cools his heels at the Soba house run by Ruriki. For the record, a Gatling gun does indeed
and white briefly mixed to pink when Ruriki’s son married Shizuka. However, when her husband was killed by his
own clan, Shizuka took dubious refuge with the Genji, where she most definitely
catches the lone gunslinger’s eye. While
SWD is mostly a testosterone driven
action movie, its most interesting performances come from women. Yoshino Kimura is both seductive and emotionally
nuanced as “the temptress” Shizuka.
Kaori Momoi (previously seen it films like Memoirs of a Geisha and Kurosawa’s Kagemusha) steals the show as Ruriki, who turns out to be more of
an action hero than the wooden gunslinger.
of the men do not fare so well, from an aesthetic perspective. Shocking absolutely nobody, the worst
performance comes from Quentin Tarantino, who seems convinced audiences want to
see he camp it up and go completely over the top. We don’t.
This is totally annoying Destiny
Turns on the Radio Tarantino, not the somewhat sufferable Pulp Fiction Tarantino. When he is on-screen, things come to a
screeching halt—quite an achievement given the hyper-kinetic energy Miike
infuses into the proceedings.
goes for whacked-out gonzo action and largely succeeds, thanks to the
ultra-cool Momoi and a dance number from Kimura that alone is worth the price
of admission. However, the film has a
mean streak that somewhat dampens enthusiasm.
Cruelty and physical humor go hand-in-hand in SWD, and often makes an uneasy fit, just as in Unchained. It has wild look
(including some costumes that would not have been out of place in a Liberace
stage show) and a bizarre vibe, partly due to the actors’ deliberately unnatural
sounding phonetic English. An occasional
subtitle might have helped.
Takashi Miike is the ultimate cult director, so SWD should be red meat for his
fans. The rest of us mere mortals will
likely to find it wildly uneven, but never dull. It would be about on par with Django Unchained were it not for . . .
Tarantino. Recommended for Miike
admirers and those who sorely in need of perspective on Unchained, Sukiyaki Western
Django is available on DVD from most online retailers.
Labels: Django series, DVD, Japanese Cinema, Quentin Tarantino, Takashi Miike