Welcome to the Wild West, a place many Americans are quite familiar with. Being that it’s one of the most popular subgenres in the history of American film, it’s pretty safe to say you’ve seen it all… or have you? If there was one twisted mind out there that could take something you are comfortable with and put a new spin on it that person would be Japanese director Takashi Miike. Welcome to SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO, Miike’s first official English-language feature film. Cowboys, cowgirls, horses, guns, arrows, explosions, cannons, sword fights and more… you name it, it’s there.
The film is set during “The Genpei Wars” at the end of the 1100s where the Minamoto and Taira gangs face off in a town named Yuda, while a deadly gunman (Ito Hideaki) comes to the aid of the townsfolk.
Of all of Miike’s films, the scope of SUKIYAKI is easily one of the largest. The entire town is something of wonder with saloons and Buddhist temples all intermingled. The sets are decorated beautifully with a cross-pollination of cultures that also look timeless. Add unique punk/cowboy wardrobe designs to the mix and you get one hell of a new vision. The gang members not only carry guns in their holsters, but they rock swords and other odd items. The women dress in leather corsets, black stocking and leather boots, further adding to the melting pot of inspirations. In addition, the film opens with a scene that looks like a colorful stage play (from the Hody Doody days), which sets up the events taking place. Setting up the narrative in such a fun, clever and particular way really sets the table for what’s in store.
Now that we’ve officially been transported to Miike’s Wild West, strap on your spurs and spike up your hair because you’re in for a bumpy ride. Between Miike’s heavy dialogue, there are plenty of gunfights, explosions and memorable moments. In one sequence a character is in the middle of a field eyeing another way down the road. He aims to the sky, looks to the wind and let’s one bullet rip after another. Miike literally makes it feel like the bullet was thrown across the field and into the character’s back. The sound design is uncanny as the bullet wisps across the sky and thumbs right into him, numerous times. It’s truly a standout moment in the film that shows how much heart Miike really puts into creating something original.
Some of the downfalls are apparent in the pitch… an all-Japanese cast speaking pseudo-English? It didn’t work in Miike’s IMPRINT (Masters of Horror) and it didn’t work here either, but thankfully it wasn’t AS bad. I found it distracting and difficult to understand at times. I missed a lot of dialogue that probably could have answered some of my questions I was left with in the end. Furthermore, I’m getting sick of seeing Quentin Tarantino in movies; he’s a terrible actor – putrid is more like it. He kick starts the movie in the ‘stage play’ scene and then pops back in wearing horrible make-up as an old man; both scenes losing me with his pun-filled snappy mannerisms.
SUKIYAKI was no doubt a Miike film, carrying all of the characteristics – including the bad ones. In terms of a quality movie, SUKIYAKI was lacking in the screenplay, the entire tone (seriousness) and overall effort. While the film felt rushed (or ignored) in certain areas (most notably in the acting), Miike excels to the top of his game in others (the eye candy). If you’re looking for a Takashi Miike film, you’ve found it. SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is a typical Miike film in every aspect, so there are no surprises nor disappointments… unless of course you’ve never seen anything by Miike.