Miike’s Japanese spaghetti western, “Sukiyaki Western Django”

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I very much enjoyed the Korean spaghetti western ”The Good, the Bad, and the Weird,” and enjoyed though was exhausted by the twists and turns of the Chinese spaghetti western “Let the Bullets Fly,” and looked forward to the 2007 Japanese spaghetti western (in English) “Sukiyaki Western Django” (SWD), directed by the prolific Miike Takashi (whose very violent “13 Assassins” was very much like a western; I liked’s “The Bird People of China” and “Last Life in the Universe,” which bear no resemblance to westerns, and “Sabu,” which bears some, though more of a buddy picture and prison picture; I hated “Ichi the Killer” which is the Miike movie I’ve seen that is most like SWD).

I think SWD had attempts at humor, including a succession of verbal clichés, and an incongruous mixture of a setting in a Japanese province of Nevada that sometimes included extremely fake painted Mount Fujiyamas, and total arbitrariness about what fatal gunshots (along with arrows, stakes, and swords) would actually slay a character. “Cartoon violence”? Perhaps, but too graphic for me. There are also boring songs and dances, and open acknowledgment that the situation of a stranger (a gunslinger rather than a sword-wielder) coming to a town riven into two warring factions bears more than passing resemblance to Kurosawa’s black comedy “Yojimbo.” The appearance and demeanor of the main enforcer for the Genji Whites, Yoichi (Andô Masanobum, who played the kin in Kitano’ Takeshi’s 1995 “The Kid Returns”), seems to be an homage to Nakadai Tatusya’s pouty gunslinger in “Yojimbo,” though the stranger’s garb is classic western, not at all reminiscent of Mifune Toshirô’s, though the skeptical observation of both sides by the gunman (Itô Hideaki, Onmiyoji) is pretty much the same. And there is a tori gate as in the town in “Yojimbo.”

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One difference in contrast to “Yojimb” is that there are substantial part sfor women Grandmother Ruriko (Momoi Kaori), herwidowed daughter-in-law Shizuka (Kimura Yoshino) and a substantial part for her traumatized-mute grandson Akira (Oguri Shun) and one for a hybrid rosebush. Plus a cameo for Miike fan and emulator pastiche-maker Quentin Tarantino. The main difference, however, is that “Yojimbo” is very entertaining and SWD is tedious and rarely entertaining. (The only exceptions for me was Yoicho demonstrating how to catch a sword blade before it split his head open, and his admiration for Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” inspiring him to insist on being called “Henry.)

Along with various graphic should-be fatal wounds are some very ugly rape scenes (not that I want pretty ones!). The plot made very little sense to me, beyond both the Genji Whites and Hike Reds (the names derived from two of the major literary classics of Heian-era Japan).

The colors are garish with heavily saturated reds. I often like saturated colors and very extreme contrast, but not here.

There are probably worse spaghetti westerns than SWD, but I have not seen them. I have seen much more interesting Miike films… though I think I hated “Ichi the Killer” even more than I was annoyed and bored by SWD. I’d have done better to watch “Yojimbo” or Leone’s version, “A Fistful of Dollars,” again instead, or Corbucci’s “Django” (Akira is supposed to grow up and become Django; the Django ballad at the end is the only part of the movie in Japanese rather than phonetically rendered English, btw. And the Japanese call the Italian westerns “macaroni westerns.”)

©2012, Stephen O. Murray

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