Takeshi Miike's SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO pretty much makes Simon's day (punk)...

What looks at first glance like an extraordinarily bizarre prospect- a sort of removed love-letter to the great Spaghetti Western seen through Eastern eyes (and the most surreal set of eyes going, at that)- turns out to be a bit of a wonder. In the same way that a side-show commands morbid fascination and a macabre delight, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is car-crash cinema; a mixture of obviously poor choices that somehow turns out to be a cracking overall experience. It is not strictly appropriate to continually refer to SWD as homage to the Spaghetti Western considering the implications of that term- that of perfect cross-cultural amalgamation, when director Takeshi Miike creates a grotesque amalgam universe, set against a dream-scape backdrop which very obviously does not inhabit our reality. It is very self-consciously other. From the moment in the first sequence that we see Quentin Tarantino€™s Ringo in front of the obvious painted backdrops, we not only know that the setting is hyper-real, and super-sensory, we also know that Miike is very much in on the joke. But it isn€™t just that- Miike isn€™t necessarily paying homage, so much as standing back and smirking at the genre he supposedly pays tribute to. But for the sake of parity with other reviews, it seems prudent to continue using the familiar reference point. I will resist the temptation to use the phrase Noodle Western at all costs. The film€™s short-comings are easy to pin-point: first and foremost, the ill-measured tone swings from serious, pseudo-philosophical to downright slapstick in places, and the confusion is simply exacerbated by Miike€™s insistence upon using cartoon-like sound effects which are little more than embarrassing. We all know Takashi Miike is self-consciously uber-zany, just as Tarantino is the most self-conscious cinematic magpie in the business, but I wish the two would tone it down slightly. Secondly, and widely pointed out, is the near-disastrous decision to have his actors speak their lines in broken English- now I understand this as concept, emphasising the juxtaposition of East and West; an intertextual reference to the fact that the film owes a lot to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and DJANGO, which were themselves remakes of the seminal YOJIMBO: but there€™s a line between clever cinematic device and almost-fatal decision when accents are as impenetrable as on show here. Even despite the obviousness of the joke and the invitation to have fun with it- the nonsense of thick Japanese accents giving birth to sprawling American clichés- most memorably when the phrase €œwhistling Dixie€ finds its way into the dialogue- is undermined by the sheer level of difficulty in understanding. The need to add subtitles somewhat sullies the intended effect- and I kept getting the nagging impression that this might be what it would be like if someone dropped a Jack Rabbit Slims into the middle of rural Japan. In all honesty, though, it is a bit of a blessing that little of the dialogue is clear, as the script is the third bad choice of the film, again exhibiting a bewildered, somewhat absurd mood that flits between seriousness, balls-out self-conscious spoofery and traditional comedy. The homage to the spaghetti western universe is obvious- although again it slightly misses the target- stitching a pastiche of recognisable one-liner clichés that revel in their tongue-in-cheek silliness. But the delicious absurdity is undone by Miike€™s unfortunate self-indulgence, meaning what should have been a film with an air of sentimentality and meaningful profundity, that also indulged his evident €œzany€ side, comes across a little like those painful, tasteless work-mates everyone has who shouts €œI€™m mad, me€ after every cider-fuelled bout of €œhilarity€. It€™s difficult to choose which head to put on to watch SWD, when the director is as schizophrenic as Miike obviously revels in being here. Next up, is the consideration of characterisation and development: something that Miike seems to have decided wasn€™t particularly necessary in Sukiyaki Western Django, even despite the importance of strong central characters in those films he references. It€™s impossible to imagine A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS without Clint Eastwood€™s scowling man with no name, or the eponymous stranger in DJANGO, but in SWD, Hideaki Ito€™s Gunman is too two-dimensional; a frivolous caricature that is frustrating to say the least, given that such a lead should occupy superhuman status. The very nature of the character demands an intense conviction to it, to establish the difference between him and everyone else, and reinforce his status as an outsider, but also crucially, the character we most empathise with. What also doesn€™t help is the untraditional bias towards the villains, usually spineless and €œyeller€, who are far more active, and even charismatic- particularly Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya) the leader of the white Genji clan- than the genre usually allows. But, I did say the film was a wonder, so there are obviously a lot of good redeeming points. Firstly, SWD will obviously be ambrosia for any fan of the cult that is Takeshi Miike, featuring that same weird humour, surreal kinetic action, and sexual cues (though with less ferocity as in past films) that litter his works. It is still immensely enjoyable to watch a film that is so inherently a reflection of its director, so much an insight into Miike€™s persona that it is as much about him as it is about his subjects. Rather than being just a film by Miike, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is a film of Miike- in the same way that Manhattan is unavoidably Allen, VERTIGO ineffably Hitchcock and KILL BILL innately Tarantino. And as such, there is the inevitable battle centre-piece, which is done so predictably well (but of course!) that it does not need mentioning, beyond the brief fact that it is joyful, breathless and uber-violent: a delicious morsel of typical Miike. Aesthetically, the film is just wonderful, wonderful porn- naturally- which I hungrily devoured; the bewildering beauty borne of the first dream-like sequence featuring Tarantino€™s Ringo and blossoming through to the end. Plot deficiencies, script problems and whatever other short-falls you care to list become almost secondary concerns in the face of such artistry. Colour, predictably plays an important part, and every colourful scene looks as though it were hand-painted by nearly blind Monks - particularly in the white versus red theme of the warring factions. It all just looks so beautiful that the film can be excused even the worst indiscretions. It would seem that SWD is an exercise in triumphant production, everything from the costume design to the casting of bit€“part characters and extras deserves proper, unadulterated accolades. Everything combines to make the film look irresistible- a fantastic dreamscape full of snarling grotesque cowboys, who manage in flashes to capture both to haggard essence of the spaghetti western hero, as well as the adolescent hyper-kinetic swagger of BATTLE ROYALE. Of course, someone is bound to say that, despite its obvious aesthetic beauty, SWD is rather an empty spectacle (and indeed Will Sloan of Inside Toronto has done just that) and certainly Miike does make it difficult to become totally involved in the film- the preferential treatment of aesthetics over substance, and the painfully two-dimensional characters exacerbating the problem. What we are left with is a viewing experience which is more about voyeurism and about self-conscious ironic detachment than good old fashioned cinematic enjoyment. Also, apart from the unfortunate problem with the difficulty in understanding, the grotesque pastiche of East and West is perfectly observed, from the delightful inclusion of Nevada as the town€™s name, to the disparity between the Western external architecture of the town, and the obviously Oriental design of the interiors. But beyond being a simple parodied grotesque, SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO is invested in a wider concern, adhering to the ideal that cross-cultural pollination is the essence of cinema. Cinema is inherently transnational, the product of a society composite of innumerate cultural components- and SWD is the personification of such an ideal. Oh, and one more thing. Whoever told Quentin Tarantino that he should act (even if he is returning Miike€™s favour from HOSTEL) should retract the statement- apart from his cameos in PULP FICTION, and the diner scene in RESERVOIR DOGS, the man€™s appearances list like Stan Lee€™s painful cameos. The madness must cease. So, who is it for? I'd suggest SWD as the perfect way for any film lover unfamiliar with Miike€™s work to get an easy introduction- although Id hesitate to suggest it is anything like his best (it€™s far too Miike-Lite for a good proportion of his die-hard fans). And even despite the differences between this and his other works, those fans will still hungrily watch it- and they€™d be encouraged to enjoy the sublime aesthetics of it all- as if ignorance were an option in this case. SWD is not for everyone- it certainly isn€™t going to entice a TRUE GRIT fan particularly, but the parody/pastiche aspects are done with just enough humility (if you can ignore the self-indulgence and the smirking) to please those among us who still secretly yearn for an old-fashioned Western dust-up every now and then.

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