Friday, 17 October 2008

Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)

Historical accuracy is not this film's strong suit

Between Fistful of Dollars and (ahem) Last Man Standing, haven't we seen enough remakes of Yojimbo? Apparently not, because the unstoppable filmmaking juggernaut Takashi Miike has added his own entry into the mix. This is one of his more accessible films, and considering it's about Samurai cowboys that dress like members of a boy band, that really says something about him. Takashi is wearing his influences on his sleeve with this one, though: when the mysterious stranger rolls into town, one of the hoodlums is quick to warn him "Don't go playing yojimbo." Wouldn't it be awesome if the film Yojimbo kept being passed back and forth between the East and West, each adding their own cultural twist?

The film's tone is established at the opening scene, which takes place on a ludicrously fake looking sound stage. Piringo (Quentin Tarantino) retrieves an egg from the belly of a snake, waxes poetical about the battle of Dannoura and then out a bunch of bad guys with a six-gun and some cartoonish sound effects. It's silly, it's fun and (if the presence of Tarantino wasn't enough to tip you off) it shows that historical accuracy has taken a permanent vacation.

Look, I love Tarantino's films as much as the next guy (probably more than the next guy, judging from the commercial success of Grindhouse) but dude can't act. Luckily he's not on screen for very long plus he doesn't mangle a lot of Japanese because the film is entirely in English. Tarantino adopts a weird range of accents and vocal inflections, though. He almost sounds, like much of the cast, as if he learned his lines phonetically. Subtitles are recommended, although on the DVD I watched there were a few hilarious errors, such as where Tarantino learns of the death of his son and he softly replies "Ah-so." The subtitles render his somber proclamation as "Asshole."

Oh, you want to know about the plot? Well, the film takes place after the Genpei war, with the rival Genji and Heike clans moving into a small town in order to find some hidden gold.
The Genji clan dress in white and are led by coolly sinister Yoshitsune, while the red-garbed Heike clan are led by the aggressive Shakespeare-enthusiast Kiyomori. Props to the costume designer, Michiko Kitamura, who kits out each clan in a weird and wild fusion of East and West that fits the film perfectly. With both factions at a stalemate, a mysterious skilled gunman moves into town and helps to turn the tide in favour of the few remaining townspeople.

Okay, so it's a lot like Yojimbo, but to be fair though, the film borrows from a variety of sources other than Kurosawa and Leone. In addition to the title, Takashi borrows the title song and machine-gun-in-coffin subplot from Sergio Corbucci's awesome 1966 Western Django. He also throws in references to Shakespeare and the War of the Roses. Hey, why not? There's a few other memorable characters including a schizophrenic Sherriff, a retired gunfighter named Bloody Benten, even a mute child who is a half breed between the Heike and the Genji.

Sukiyaki Western Django is very much a Takashi Miike film, for better or worse. There's some stylish, occasionally cartoony violence, especially during the bloody final showdown. It kind of reminded me of his film Dead or Alive. Also, like many of Takashi's films, the film seems a little rushed and paced improperly, with a few slow parts here and there. Although it's enjoyable, it doesn't gel as much as I would like, coming across as an extended homage rather than standing on it's own.

Sukiyaki is a fitting dish to describe this film: A bunch of random ingredients, some Eastern, some Western, boiled up together, dipped into raw egg and consumed. The raw egg represents fun times at the movies or something, I don't know, I don't think I thought this analogy through. Bits of it work, bits of it don't, but in the end it goes down well.

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