Sukiyaki Western Django
Like Watching Open Surgery
Starring: Hideaki Ito, Quentin Tarantino
By Robert Patrick
Most directors choose to orchestrate their films with cameras and lights. Japanese born director Takashi Miike, whose style never took to minimalism, seems to almost prefer to work on his films with a meat clever instead of lens. Sukiyaki Western Django, Miike’s newest carnage filled extravaganza, is a spaghetti western set in the 1880’s. The film is a nod to the classic pulp westerns of Sergio Leone, and, at it’s most overly ambitious moments, a revisionists take on Shakespeare and his plays. Miike’s trigger happy take on the western, complete with a decrepit looking High Noon set, is content with its own falsities of realism and constant bloodshed. There is not one innocuous second in this film, as dust ups become ridiculous spectacles of acrobatic dismemberment that would make even the squib-loving, action junkie Robert Rodriguez cringe.
Yuta, a small town in Nevada, is the destination of a vicious clan war between the white dressed Genji and the red adorned Heike. The gangs, which initially trek to the desolate town to find gold, instead begin a feud amongst each other for supremacy after they realize the town is vacant of treasure. Kiyomori, the self anointed leader of the Heike, is a arrogant status seeker who wraps himself up in books and warfare. The leader of the white Genji is Yoshitsune; an expert swordsman with the pomposity of a reigning ruler, who seeks to destroy anyone who opposes his royal ways.
As the two clans intermittently bicker, a stranger waltzes into town with the ominous characteristics of a lone gun fighter. The man’s name is unknown and his intentions are cloudy. The two rivaling factions, each salivating over the prospects of obtaining additional support, soon take notice of the talented sharpshooter and try to hire him independently of his neutrality. The stranger, dusty boots and all, eventually sides with an unsuspecting party – an old woman and her scorned family. Hearing of the woman’s loss at the hand’s of the Genji and Heike tribes, the unnamed gunslinger vows to avenge them at all costs.
Miike’s film is surely an acquired taste, I suppose. The actors of the film are all Asian, save for the inclusion of the oft mediocre Quentin Tarantino; who is dreadfully bad in a role that requires very little in the first place. Why I bring up the nationality of the actors, above all other, is that they all speak a very diluted, hobbled version of the English language. To not have the cast speak in their native tongue is one of the many strange decisions by the 48 year-old director during the near two hour film.
Miike’s filmmaking style, no matter how flawed, is lavishly colorful. If Jackson Pollock had dipped the broad side of his paintbrush in blood, spattered it against every inanimate object available, and sold it to satire loving filmgoers, you’d have Sukiyaki Western Django. Aside from blood spurting out of the necks of our characters like it came from a crack in a Hoover Dam, there are other very distinctive stylistic traits that overwhelm the movie. Flowing coats, flamboyant leather chaps, and other jeweled accessories that would most likely impede the success of a shoot out are worn for looks. Not to be too harsh, as I know Miike’s goal was to be outlandish in execution, but there is such a thing as being too ubiquitous for your own good. Other critics have heralded the film for its novel humor. I’m not as forgiving. Miike’s film is on constant overload, making any humor or action ineffective by cramming it down your throat before you can swallow. There can never be an emotional payoff once that you’ve been desensitized. Think Clockwork Orange’s Alex being strapped into that theatre, watching bloody violent chaos, and then screaming to the heaven’s for some context or relent. Here, with all of the unnecessary and Neanderthal conflict, Miike has reached that sort of vision with a kind of crestfallen over-indulgence.