2008 FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL FEATURE! Part of me dreaded having to write a review of this movie. Having to say how low Takashi Miike had fallen. Having to wax poetic about how Hollywood had finally gotten its claws into him and ruined everything good about this great man in an attempt to ride his coattails and be “cool” by proxy. I mean, the trailer looked fun, but it also looked like it’d be derivative and silly, barely above a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon.
I was preparing myself to write all those things. Luckily for me, and for you, none of it is true. This is damn good. I mean really, really good. Miike hasn’t made a movie this awesome and accessible to a western audience since “One Missed Call.”
The film begins with Quentin Tarantino, God help us, acting. Normally this would induce shudders, not because he’s no good, he’s actually not bad, but because he’s too intimately aware of the camera. He’s a director at heart and while he should be losing himself in the role he always looks like he’s thinking about how he’d be shooting the scene if only they’d let him. However, he’s actually good in this. For once we see him put a little depth in his role, he doesn’t just perform but embodies. It was nice. I guess 67th time’s the charm.
Seven hundred years after the Genpei Wars that their ancestors fought, the Red Heike and White Genji gangs are still at each other’s throats over a legendary stash of gold hidden in a small western town somewhere in America. The Heike were there first so they’re better entrenched, but the Genji have more men and are simply waiting for an opportunity to strike. Neither gang really has an advantage over the other. This stalemate is interrupted when a Gunslinger all dressed in Black rides in. If you’ve missed the Red, White and Black symbolism, you may need to go rest for a little while.
Also, if you thought Miike had mellowed in the slightest bit, you’ll be happy to know that he still views film much like a sadistic child views his sister’s Barbie dolls. He takes the concept of a Django remake, Shakespeare’s “Henry VIII,” America’s hatred of any language but English, the traditions and clichés of the western and samurai genres; he tosses them all into the huge microwave oven that is his deranged mind and, with “Sukiyaki Western Django,” he invites us to watch all those things melt.
And it is F*****G AWESOME!
In a way it’s like he took the Leone’s Westerns back to Kurosawa without compromising the Samurai traditions. Yes, it’s completely bonkers but that’s what makes it so great. How can you say anything bad about a movie where a mournful Ennio Morricone-like horn solo begins to play during a dramatic scene, and then you cut to an American Indian playing the very same horn that we’re hearing while standing on a breathtakingly photogenic vista?
Also, for all of it’s “Let’s toss in the kitchen sink too!” insanity, the film is a proper Western. This is as good as anything Leone or Eastwood has done. For the last few years I’ve been musing that Miike may become one of the greatest directors that the entire world has ever known. Better than Hitchcock or Kubrick or Truffaut or Kurosawa or Fellini. I don’t think I have to wonder anymore.