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July 28, 2008 | by  | in Film | [ssba]

Sukiyaki Western Django

Directed by Takashi Miike

The 1960s gave us some great westerns, Sergio Leone exposed the nihilistic potential of the genre, Sam Peckinpah fine tuned the gunplay with his bullet-wracked bodies in ballistic slow motion. Unlike his more ambitious contemporaries, Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 spaghetti western Django stuck a much simpler formula – Senioritas mud wrestling + chain gun + Commando body count = 100 sequels, and all a full decade and a half before the advent of the ‘blockbuster’ as we now know it. Who cares that so many of the plots and camera tricks were ripped wholesale from the Japanese?

Omnivore director Takashi Miike is well placed to enjoy the irony, and if you tried to chart the inter-textual flow of intellectual property in Sukiyaki Western Django, you’d be risking a full scale aneurism.

It’s a lovingly sloppy send up of westerns – high and low – transplanted into a period Japanese setting. The architecture blends seamlessly, wild costumes abound, and the soundtrack seems to have been composed on a flute made from the thigh bones of Ennio Morricone himself.

The Japanese cast speak their lines in English with a highly exaggerated accent, a device which fairly approximates the surreally sloppy dubbing of the original Django films. There’s action aplenty, and somewhat surprisingly, the best lines go to the female characters, who somewhat make up for a draft of pretty bland male leads. Luckily Teruyuki Kagawa in a minor role as the sheriff/Shakespearean fool carries the film through some pretty slap-dash moments, and on balance the film satisfies – with one glaring exception.

Quentin Tarantino just can’t seem to get over the fact that his days as self-appointed cultural gatekeeper are long over, and so we are exposed to far too much of his gurning mug as he desperately tries to suck up as much cool as he can in a couple of rapidly deteriorating cameos.

Almost as bizarre as the film itself was the fact that there was an atmosphere of palpable tension amongst the unusually factional film-festival audience. Studious reference-spotting cineaste types intent on consuming the film as a worthy postmodern text went up against jocular movie buffs who delighted in repeating the corny dialogue out loud in a minor side battle of cheers, jeers and a whole lot of shushing.

On the whole a good watch, but perhaps not quite the film it could have been had Miike dropped the Tarantino circle-jerk.


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