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Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Sukiyaki Western Django - 2007

Sukiyaki Western Django directed by Takeshi Miike - 2007
Takeshi Miike is a director whose films I have long avoided, I just have no desire to see films like Ichi The Killer or Audition. But I thought I might give this film of his a go as it seemed much less violent and disturbing than the aforementioned films. I was right and ended up enjoying this film a lot. This doesn't mean I have changed my mind about the rest of his work, but it does mean I'm really looking forward to his new film, a remake of 13 Assassins which looks excellent.

Now, on with the short review for Sukiyaki Western Django:

If you have seen Yojimbo, A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and Django, as well as a few other Spaghetti Westerns and Samurai films, then the basic storyline of this film should sound very familiar.
A lone stranger, walks into a town divided by two rival factions. He is helped by a local tavern owner and eventually manages to manipulate events and get the two factions to destroy each other, along the way he helps a broken family and is brutally beaten up.
There I just described the plot for Kurosawa's classic Yojimbo, and for Leone's remake, A Fistful Of Dollars and also for this film. So in a way this film is a double remake, a remake of two films which combines elements of both.
One would think that this overworking of the material would become tedious, well I thought that too at first but it is very hard not to enjoy this film. I have a soft spot for films that reference and pay homages to various other films, so this was right up my street.

The strangest thing about this film though, is that it's such a mix of different cultures, Japanese, American, American seen through Italian eyes etc.
The film seems to be set in the US, the clothes, guns and the name of the town (Nevada) are clear indicators of this, yet the architecture of the town itself is unmistakeably Japanese and reminiscent of the town in Yojimbo. The inhabitants are all clearly Japanese, yet they speak American, albeit with very noticeable accents and hammy line delivery.
So I assumed this film was set in some kind of alternate universe or something like that, in fact I didn't try to hard to make sense of this film as it is really quite ridiculous yet incredibly entertaining.

Consequently I feel a detailed analysis of this film would be rather inappropriate, so I'll just write a few thoughts I had, post a few screenshots and hopefully convince all you film buffs to see this film, as it is one that you'll probably enjoy.

The two warring factions are distinguished by their colours, the Whites and the Reds. This causes one of the characters to quote Shakespeare's Henry V, a play which deals with the War Of The Roses, the Red Roses vs the White Roses.This only contributes to the cultural confusion.
The main plot point was the conflict in between these two factions for the control of the town, they happen to be both searching for hidden treasure.
But the arrival of the mysterious stranger complicates things, which are then complicated even further by a vengeful wife, a treacherous sheriff and a famed yet ageing assassin. The plot itself often wanders, through flashbacks and sub plots, yet I felt everything was tied up nicely by the end. Mainly because practically everyone died.

This is a film that is completely over the top in nearly all possible ways, it all would seem like a big joke if it wasn't for the rather sombre story. At times though it does seem like a joke specifically designed for film buffs, consider the end of the film when this appears on screen: "The Kid eventually made his way to Italy, were he became known as Django". The kid in question is of course Japanese whereas Franco Nero (who played the original Django) was Italian, yet the film itself is meant to take place in the US.

The action scenes only added to the ridiculous nature of the film, a duel between six shooter and katana which involves deflecting bullets with the katana, a man curving bullets with the wind, a Gatling gun, dynamite etc...
They are ridiculously over the top yet aren't exactly cartoonish, they don't cross that line they manage to be more like the action scenes in Kill Bill than the ones in Kung Fu Hustle for example.

The visual style of this film was one of the most enjoyable elements. Takeshi Miike uses a wide variety of techniques and angles to constantly keep the film engaging and fresh.

These opening scenes, which feature Quentin Tarantino in an amusing "Man With No Name" type role (I'm sure that's something he's always dreamed to do), are particularly intriguing, I loved the backgrounds. They made little attempt to be realistic yet are beautiful.

The flashbacks were exceptionally well shot, in a kind of orange filter which gave a retro yet classy look to the image, it made certain scenes look warm and cheerful (see top) yet others appeared incredibly gritty and disturbing when shot in a similar yet slightly more faded way (see bottom).

The film also featured some impressive and surreal landscapes, there is little attempt at geographical accuracy, the effort in mainly put into constructing some beautiful shots

The snow sequences towards the end are beautifully shot, but utterly inexplicable, the only reason it suddenly snows is to make the climatic duel at the end more memorable, or maybe it was a homage to Kill Bill.
In the image below, you may see the treasure which has been subject of much violence throughout the film.

In a film filled with homages, some stuck out more than others, most notably the Django homage, if you've seen Django, this pics should bring up some memories:

The dark often morbid humour was often very amusing, but there were some scenes of full out comedy which felt somewhat out of place. Not that I didn't enjoy them, but they were a bit hit and miss, as well as being rather out of place in what was essentially a very dark comedy.
Thankfully the dark humour took an edge off the brutal violence which was at times rather gruesome. Without this humour I can imagine would have been slightly to disturbing, for even with the humour some scenes are particularly nasty, such as one scene which involves a katana slicing into a man's head.

All in all, this is a very stylishly shot film, with some brilliant homages and a surreal setting, the story often wanders and some of the comedy is a bit strange, it's far from being a masterpiece and really isn't very deep, but is a most enjoyable film that could be likened to The Good The Bad and The Weird, the Korean film that was similar in it's homages and over the top action scenes, if you enjoyed that film there is a good chance that you'll enjoy this one.

This is not one of my most in depth reviews I'm afraid, but as much as I want to write about this film and bring people's attention onto it, there just isn't much to say.  I recommend it highly and hope you enjoy it if you do decide to see it. 

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