By Cam LindsayKnown primarily in North America for the off-putting brutal violence of Audition and Ichi the Killer, Japanese workhorse Takashi Miike is nonetheless a director with many tricks up his sleeve.
Despite a reputation for graphically violent subject matter, he’s made unexpected moves with Salaryman Kintarô and The Bird People of China, meaning you can never be too sure what the Osaka native will bring to the screen. It should come as no surprise then that the man can turn in a spaghetti western/samurai film with tremendous panache.
A loose remake of Sergio Carbucci’s 1966 cult classic Django, Sukiyaki Western Django is a piece of homage filmmaking that uses decades worth of source material — from Eastwood to Kurosawa — to achieve its non-stop thrills. The age-old story finds a skilled "gunslinger with no name” (Hideaki Ito) entering a village to liberate the victimised townsfolk and settle a gold-fuelled feud between rival outsider gangs the Genjis (white) and the Heikes (red).
While the plot (written with Masaru Nakamura) is a pretty familiar one, Miike’s heavy cast of characters all share importance to the unfolding acts. Back-story is given for all sides involved, perhaps a tad too much considering its two-hour running time, setting up not only some invigorating plot twists and revelations but also a hilarious cameo by Miike aficionado Quentin Tarantino as an aged cowboy.
The fast-paced action is well staged on a set that borrows from both western and samurai traditions; Miike mixes both good old gunplay (a Gatling gun that’s housed in the original film’s iconic coffin) and martial arts swordplay, which intermingle cohesively until the last fight. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Miike’s western is his decision to use a Japanese cast to speak English. Supported by English subtitles, it’s a peculiar choice that at first feels like a novelty, only to fade into the film’s absorbing environment.
Sukiyaki Western Django feels very much like a genuine western, and with it Miike demonstrates his mastery of working a genre film until it becomes a creation of his very own. (Celluloid Dreams)