Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sukiyaki Western Django: Takashi Miike rules

Sukiyaki Western Django
Japan, 2008
Directed by Takashi Miike

When I heard Takashi Miike had a new western movie, I was stoked to see it.  And I wasn't disappointed in the least.  It's as strange and bizarre as you would expect if you've seen any of his other movies; as a fan of his, it was exactly what I was hoping for.  It's a strange hybrid of western movie tropes and Japanese style, infused with Miike's weird energy.  

The story supposedly takes place in Nevada, but it's a Nevada populated entirely by Japanese people (with one exception; Quentin Tarantino has a small but enjoyable role) and containing some very Asian-looking buildings.  Interestingly, the dialogue is all in English, but it's so heavily accented that my friend and I ended up turning on the subtitles anyway; the pronunciation and rhythms of the language are not very easy to understand.  The plot is a goofy, somewhat self-aware appropriation of obvious western/samurai tropes, taking a definite inspiration from Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars, with a stranger entering a town divided between two warring gangs and stirring up a huge battle.  But Miike puts his own unique spin on everything, like the gangs being color-coded, with one in red and the other in white.  

But even if it's kind of formulaic (and what western isn't, really?), Miike delivers it with such style that you can't help but get into it.  The gangs wear elaborate clothing covered with silk-screened designs, and they have crazy philosophies involving Shakespeare or samurai swords.  Everything is shot incredibly stylishly, from the over-saturated colors of flashbacks, to dynamic, over-the-top action, to goofy-cool touches like a burst of flower petals exploding from an bullet wound rather than a splash of blood (not that blood is in short supply or anything), or a dance scene set to didgeridoo music.

So overall, it's awesome.  Unless you're bothered by unrealistic, eccentric takes on beloved genres.  Myself, I'm usually ready to follow Miike wherever he leads, and I wasn't disappointed in this case.  If you like his stuff, or weird Asian movies in general, don't miss it.

I included that trailer above because most of the other ones I saw on YouTube gave away several of the best shots of the movie; it's much better to see those in context.  But if you want more of a taste, there are several complete scenes to watch, including the aforementioned dance scene, a bit from an early face-off, or this great scene involving samurai swords.