Japanese director Takashi Miike is a freak. Based on ongoing discussions I've held with friends and co-workers I'd say his films seem very either/or; anyone who has seen even one of his films has undoubtedly come to the conclusion that they've either seen one Miike film too many or that they've become Miike movie addicts. I've seen only a few films of his that could be categorized as middling (my favorite is one of these: the wonderful musical-comedy-horror farce Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)), and plenty of others I had trouble watching or couldn't finish due to the shocking visual content his stories are often soaked in. Being highly prolific (he has directed over seventy theatrical, video and television productions since 1991 and is credited with directing fifteen productions from 2001 to 2002 alone) and internationally famous for making movies capable of churning stomachs and blowing minds with such outrageous depictions of extreme violence and bizarre sexual perversions in underworld or otherworldy settings that often involve gangsters, outsiders and general sickos, it is no surprise Miike's films caught Quentin Tarantino's eye. It is a surprise, however, to see Tarantino himself all gunslingin' and gussied up in the opening sequence of Miike's latest creation, made available this Tuesday on DVD, Sukiyaki Western Django. I was so not expecting his performance or much of what followed, but I can say that I had a good night of movie magic enjoyment.
The overall flavor of this film, and I'm not just saying this 'cause I've got Thanksgiving on my mind, is reminiscent of that fabled holiday concoction, the turducken. This movie may be made of way too many ingredients, but fans of Miike (and Tarantino), Westerns (especially Spaghetti Westerns), and cinematic sensory overindulgence will eat this movie up and continue to savor the flavor long after it's done. The cinematography and production design are just fantastic! For one thing this movie is inspired by the both the original samurai movies that inspired so many Spaghetti Westerns and the Spaghetti Westerns themselves, so the blending of both Eastern and Western influences and their delicious juxtaposition really make this movie worth viewing. In particular, I love the way pairings like an old west outpost set against an image like to one of those old woodblock print views of Mt. Fuji by Hokusai (instead of the tired and done desert sunset) really create a sense of two visual worlds crashing together. Especially the depiction of a traditional torii gate in use as both an entrance marker and a gallows -- genius! If only that were the cover image for the DVD. Oh well. But the costumes are colorful and crazy, the camera work is exciting (and very, very Spaghetti Western feeling), an arsenal of weapons large enough to fill several barns is employed, and the music is a delightful mix of Morricone meets Kabuki including a Rock'n'Roll meets Enka style theme song, "Django - Sasurai," that is also enjoyable as a music video. There is even an erotic dance/flashback sequence that makes for a stunning piece of work in itself -- my favorite part of the movie would be a dance montage, of course.
All in all, Sukiyaki Western Django has an escapist entertainment vibe the likes of which home theaters were invented to celebrate in that this movie made from movies made from movies quite nearly has it all, turducken style. That said, I think the only thing that stands to turn folks off when watching this movie is the phonetic English dialogue spoken by all of the Japanese actors for the duration of the film. While it is interesting to keep tabs on which of the actors are better at delivering lines in English with a wild west accent tagged on for good measure (some of them are nearly close to bilingual, while others struggle with their lines like they've got constipation of the mouth or maybe something worse), most viewers will likely have to turn on those subtitles just to keep up with what all's being said. It gets a bit messy in places, word-wise, but the action is mainly where the real talking is done in this film. After all, the movies this one draws from definitely have their memorable lines, but the script itself is only a small part of the big picture. And as far as Miike is concerned, words are not necessary when exploring whether or not the sword is mightier than the gun. Check the trailer and see for yourself:
And if you're not buying that preposterous slice of action where a Japanese sword cuts a flying bullet down, check out this badass excerpt from the Japanese show トリビアの泉 (Fountain of Trivia):