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Sukiyaki Western Django (2008)
26th Dec 08
Head far enough west and you’ll end up east!
Some times certain ideas just sound like they won’t work, just not really plausible, somehow they become accepted, bit like Clint Eastwood being recognised as director. Sure Firefox was fantastic, but others are debatable in quality. Like The Bridges of Madison County, but who’d’ve thought after 30 plus years of trying he’s gone a long way from being a western actor? Then again who’d’ve thought western films based on Japanese stories would work? They certainly did. Now how about Takashi Miike directing, making a film with Japanese actors speaking in English, set in the wild west giving an intelligent wink to Japanese films and Shakespeare, would that work?! Well Sukiyaki Western Django is that film.
For those not in the know, Takashi Miike is an extreme cult classics cinema director, who’s two most famous works are Ichi the Killer and Audition, this is Miike’s first full English feature film and as a unique take on such an established genre, the western, is a risk, a risk that pays off in a fist full of dollars… sorry I just couldn’t help myself.
The film starts off with a light hearted, Tarantino parody on the dialogue to come, and also it serves as an indicator of the stylish action the viewer is about to watch, because if it’s action you want, then strap yourself in, because that is what you are going to get. Hideaki Ito plays the mysterious gunman, moodily, down to a tee, and after Quentin gives it the big one (in a refreshingly under played fashion) we watch our Ito riding into a divided town in Nevada, that’s Nevada Yamagata, to be precise, from here we get the classic A Fist Full of Dollars / Django / Yojimbo stand off. Not only is the script intelligent enough to recognise its origins, it’s also witty enough to tip a wink and give a sly nod; at one stage during the gunfight between the two factions scene, one of the protagonists shouts ‘Now don’t being doing a Yojimbo on us!’. In my book that’s great, a script by Miike/Naskamura, that understands itself and its viewer, which is far better than say Equilibrium not even acknowledging it’s ripped from the Matrix. Am I saying that Sukiyaki Western Django is on par with Equilibrium? No, SWD is far, far, superior.
What unfolds is a tale of greed, jealousy and revenge, all based on the apparent wealth somewhere hidden in a small sleepy village, which draws on all the essential elements that make a great enthralling interwoven story. Miike draws upon the concept of cowboys having a similar concept of honour to that of samurai, which considering that an anarchic society could be dominated by those who are the most powerful and violent, works well.
There are scenes that ooze action packed quality, amongst the many notable scenes is the wagon chase, that not only is full of violence, but has its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Comedy tossing of TNT sticks, to the dragging of the local sheriff and the use of wind to get a shot to hit its target, reeks of quality.
The use of CGI is well blended into the action, used sparsely, yet effectively and there is an atmospheric score that accompanies a well crafted take on a genre. However, as a film I can see it not getting the mainstream critical acclaim it so deserves, it challenges in many ways and not to its detriment, but many a viewer will be put off by Sukiyaki Western Django’s dialogue delivery. I for one tuned in very quickly, some I think would struggle. Also the fusion of western and eastern themes, that even with a modicum of film history knowledge most should should be able to understand and appreciate Sukiyaki Western Django, but alas I think some might miss the point. Whether that adds to the appeal, that’s debateable, it certainly makes this a film for the discerning pallet.
Okay, I haven’t gone into too much detail on the plot, but why should I? This film is a gem, a blend of numerous themes, spinning them into a unique yarn, without ever being an uninspirational and bland western clone. There’re some great scenes, that exudes stylish action sequences and underpinning it all there’s a cracking story line. If you are open minded, Sukiyaki Western Django rewards on so many levels, representing one of the most novel and original films I have seen in many a year, so miss this at your peril. If there’s one film you purchase on DVD in 2009, make sure it’s Sukiyaki Western Django.