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SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (2008)

-Review by Fiona Young-Brown-

 

Westerns have always been thought of as that typically American domain: the cowboy riding off into the sunset. But when you look more closely, you realize that the Italians made some pretty successful Westerns (anyone remember that guy, what was his name… that’s it, Sergio Leone). There’s even some Israeli Westerns out there, some starring my own personal hero, Lee Van Cleef. So it seems only fair that the Japanese get in on the action. After all, we’ve been known to turn their samurai into cowboys once or twice.

 

Sukiyaki Western Django is Japanese director Takeshi Miike’s homage to the spaghetti westerns loved by so many, and a self-styled prequel, of sorts, to Django (1966). (I feel it only fair to point out that I have not seen Django so I’m unable to make any contrasts based upon that).

 

Sukiyaki Western Django follows the conventional cowboy plot of the man with no name who arrives in a town split between two rival gangs. Mayhem ensues, with bloodshed, and gunfights galore. Wait, did I mention that this cowboy movie takes place in medieval Japan with swords coming into play against guns? Or that the dialogue is in heavily accented, clichéd English that sounds comical when delivered by Japanese speakers? Or that English history is also thrown in for good measure with recurring references to the War of the Roses? Trust me, this is like no Western you have ever seen; one reviewer on IMDB describes it as “Fellini, Sergio Leone, Tarantino, and John Woo drop acid.”

 

Speaking of Tarantino, he makes an appearance which did irk me a little. I have not been a Tarantino fan for a while (Kill Bill was the last thing he did which I enjoyed) and so I always feel as if any movie where he attempts to act is instantly stuck in a dire competition against his own ego. I won’t say I liked him any better here, but his bad acting added to the crazed mish-mash that is Sukiyaki Western Django.

 

Visually, this movie is wonderful to watch. You have women dressed like saloon girls in a muddy, traditional Japanese village; two rival gangs, respectively dressed in vivid reds and white, looking like pouty modern-day pop stars as they wield samurai swords and guns; and stunningly depicted seasonal changes that only the Japanese seem to be able to master. So it’s not realistic but if you hadn’t already guessed, that’s the point.

 

Like the rest of the audience at the B-Movie Celebration, where I saw this, I loved Sukiyaki Western Django and would happily sit down to watch it again right now (need to add it to the Netflix queue). It’s bizarrely surreal, with a constant barrage of elements that don’t match up and yet somehow seem to work. If you’re an absolute purist when it comes to Westerns, you probably won’t like this or “get it.” If, on the other hand, you enjoy a somewhat more Baz Luhrmann take on things, I highly recommend checking out Takeshi Miike’s Sukiyaki Western Django.

- Fiona Young-Brown



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