If you’re fan of both westerns and samurai films, then you’re probably well aware that the two genres have a history of influencing each other. A taciturn stranger who’s good with a weapon comes to a lawless rural town that serves as the battleground for two avaricious warring clans. His services are courted by both sides, but he remains a wild card and ends up taking down both gangs for his own purposes.
One of the four films that bizarre genius Takashi Miike directed in 2007,Miike’s made a movie that’s almost completely about the movies, to the point that the film happily smashes through the fourth wall to acknowledge us as we watch it. Just in case the line hasn’t been crossed enough by playing out a medieval Japanese story with American western tropes, Miike really goes nuts by having Quentin Tarantino appear in the film. There’s even a bullet-curving scene that nails that perfect collision of cool and ridiculous that Wanted whiffed by a country mile. There’s plenty of silly to go around, and the falseness could get grating if Miike wasn’t so keen to let us in on the joke.
Now I don’t always think it’s fair to criticize a foreign film for having non-English actors stumble through English dialogue, but in this case, it was clearly a stylistic decision by Miike and I think it was probably a mistake. It is very hard to follow what is being said because many of the actors are simply speaking phonetically (even Miike himself doesn’t speak English), and although it is initially amusing, it really starts to drive you nuts after a while. It also doesn’t help that the dialogue itself is somewhat nonsensical at times, but thankfully there are English subtitles. For me, the one redeeming aspect of this movie was the visuals. The oversaturated flashbacks have a really vibrant look to them, and the highlighted reds pop within the rest of the sepia-toned footage.
While not one of his ‘safe’ films, unlike Ichi the Killer, Sukiyaki Western Django is only as violent as you’d expect a western to be – lots of squib hits, but not much by way of over the top mayhem. Even his trademark perversity isn’t on display here; there’s a rape scene, but it’s downright subdued and classy. Miike’s films generally attempt difficult balancing acts with variable success. With Sukiyaki Western Django, he’s nailed it damn near perfect. Strong Recommendation.