Sukiyaki Western: Django (2007), or I Can’t Believe It’s Not English!

4 03 2009
East meets West in a very strange mash up of samurai movie and Western...

East meets West in a very strange mash up of samurai movie and Western...

Hello, readers! Welcome to my digital chateau. Today we have a reader submission from David. He was kind enough to let me borrow this goofy little Japanese film, and I feel I must thank him from the bottom of my heart. Thank you. Well, with that out of the way, might I inquire; what the fuck? This is quite a find. Imagine if you will a modern-day spaghetti western set in an America with pagodas everywhere and a cast made up almost entirely of Japanese people speaking bad English. No, this is not something out of Quentin Tarantino’s wet dreams. This is a real movie, but I’m not sure I understand it.

Okay, so get this. This is loosely based on the real life Tale of the Heike, a history of the Genpei War which transpired in feudal japan in the 12th century. It is the story of two clashing clans of samurai and their battle for dominance. It is also based on a number of the old Italian-western classics, ESPECIALLY Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. A mysterious gunfighter (who woulda thought?) walks into a town named Yuta filled with turmoil and strife. The two warring factions in the town, the Heike and the Genji, both want to hire this dangerous-looking mysterious gunfighter. He is not swayed by either side. Instead, he goes to the house of one of the few remaining townspeople left after all the gang clashing. She tells him the story of the town, a sad history indeed. Their town was once peaceful, without war or strife. But when some of the townspeople discovered gold nearby, people came from all around to mine it. The gold miners were rowdy and caused a lot of problems until the Heike came to town and made them all leave. Run by the ruthless Kiyomori, it became clear almost immediately that these samurai would be much worse than the miners. All they wanted was the gold for themselves, and so they abused the townsfolk and took what they wanted. Things became even worse when the Genji clan, a rival of the Heike clan, came in and moved right next door to the Heike’s base of operations. Led by the cunning and skilled Yoshitsune, this group waited for the Heike to find the gold so they could take it all for themselves. And by the time the gunfighter came to town, they were sizing each other up, wanting to start a war. What unfortunate circumstances! So the gunfighter is a prized commodity for either side. As it just so happens, however, the gunfighter does not like the idea of joining with any of them. He decides for reasons of his own that neither of these clans needs to exist any longer. With the help of the daughter of the woman who invited him to her house, who is now a prostitute for the Genjis, he decides to clean up the town. But things aren’t ever that easy. Kiyomori is a mad brute who will do anything to get what he wants, and Yoshitsune has unbelievable prowess as a warrior, not to mention a secret weapon. Just what are the motives of the mysterious gunfighter, and can he take care of these two ruffians and make the town habitable again?

You still following me? Good. Well, I have to say that this isn’t exactly what I imagined from an Eastern-Western. The ideas are presented in a concise light, but I still can’t help but think that this was not extremely well thought out. First of all, all this is is just Kurosawa’s Yojimbo mixed with A Fistful of Dollars, which is weird considering that A Fistful of Dollars is a remake of Yojimbo (There’s not that much of Sergio Corbucci’s Django in here, though, and that’s in the damn title!). So they mixed the original and the remake to make another remake. Huh? They are doing nothing original except adding the Tale of the Heike structure into the mix, so I don’t know if they were going for unflattering homage or lazy plagiarism. Either way, it’s a story we’ve seen before and this remake-remake adds little to the already lavish tapestry of this concept.

And, I’m sorry, but Takeshi Miike is a silly, misguided director. Every time I see one of his features, I’m reminded of why I don’t own more Asian cinema; half the time I am too disappointed with the product to want to waste another twenty-five dollars on some other obscure Japanese DVD. Ichi the Killer was the icing on the cake for me, and I doubt anyone could topple that giant of ridiculously uneven torture porn comedy, so this is actually pretty good in comparison, but that does not say too much. He is just severely conflicted on whether he wants us to laugh or not, and worse yet, he has horrible comedic timing. He knows how to make his cast shine, I will say that. Yusuke Iseya as Yoshitsune is great, although dressed like a Japanese dandy with a lip piercing and designer clothes. He is passionate and wild like his clan, but he has a stillness that really gives you pause.

Well, it would give you pause if they weren’t mumbling terrible English! That’s right! Takeshi Miike, who speaks no English, decides to make his entire cast, who also do not speak English, to speak English for the entire movie! It is insane! They are horrible! They try their best, but English and Japanese dialects are like soy sauce and mayonnaise; great by themselves, but don’t mix the two, for goodness sake! It is a bold experiment, and I applaud Miike for trying, but he already had so many plates spinning. You just can’t take it seriously when people spit out philosophical gems from ancient history like they’re reading from cue-cards written by The Donger from Sixteen Candles!

But, maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe it really is an homage to the spaghetti westerns of old with an Asian touch (Quentin Tarantino is actually in this movie, believe it or not, for about a minute and a half, so maybe that means something), but regardless, I couldn’t find myself enjoying this too much. I hear there is an extended cut that is better, though, so maybe that is it as well. I was only given the regular, crappy version by David (thanks for nothing). So until the extended cut reaches my doorstep, I give Sukiyaki Western: Django 4 1/2 remake-remakes out of 10!

Tomorrow is the PSA, everyone! Get ready for one of my favorite movies of all time, The Seventh Seal!