In 18th Century Nevada, two rival gangs, conveniently divided into the white and the red, sniff gold, take over a town and indulge in occasional stylized skirmishes. An unnamed preternatural gunfighter arrives to possibly turn the tide, further battles ensue and influences get ticked off a checklist. Oh, and Quentin Tarantino makes a handful of appearances.
On paper, Sukiyaki sounds like Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo meets Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars — not much of a stretch considering the former inspired the latter — and it consciously acknowledges its muses. But the allusions don’t stop there. Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Romeo and Juliet, the Genpei War and Three Amigos all get evoked and thrown into the jumble. And then there’s Tarantino.
Despite the winks and nods to Kurosawa and Leone, Sukiyaki owes heavily to both volumes of Kill Bill (self-reflexively, I hope). Overblown violence? Check. Western/samurai fusion? Check. Snow-covered climax? Check. Anime-inspired background story? Check. Tarantino? Che… wait, Tarantino wasn’t in Kill Bill, so why is he in this?
As Ringo, the actor plays a mix of Kill Bill’s guru, Pai Mei, and its titular antagonist, though the comparison gives him too much credit as an actor and a character. Shoehorned in, his presence is gratuitous and distracting, and his scene chewing adds to the tonal confusion.
Throughout, Sukiyaki oscillates thematically and tonally, bouncing from revenge western to slapstick farce and sporadically harping on a forced duality conceit. A collection of archetypes, the cast have nothing to work with and characters get tossed off haphazardly.
As the taciturn gunslinger, Hideaki Ito has almost nothing to do, so he opts for cool detachment. Model-turned-actor Yusuke Iseya charismatically plays a learned reprobate but he’s in a different movie entirely.
In the badass-turned-matriarch-turned-badass part, Kaori Momoi copes best with the mess but she’s not well enough armed to save the film. Nor is DOP Toyomichi Kurita, whose oft-gorgeous shots (see the dénouement) are mostly wasted. (Seville)