A nameless gunslinger enters a troubled town. The citizens are ruled over by a pair of rival clans who are both hunting for long lost treasure. Caught in the crossfire can the gunslinger bring peace and end the bloodshed?
That most American of cinematic genres, the western, has been reinterpreted and reinvigorated by outsiders for many years. Most notably the Italians with their spaghetti westerns which breathed new life into the genre. Now the prolific, if inconsistent, Takashi Miike has a go, adding oriental sensibilities with Sukiyaki Western Django. The idea of setting a wild west tale in the far east and adding samurai conventions is not as odd as it sounds, both Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Sergio Corbucci's Django were reworkings of Akira Kurosawa's seminal chambara movie Yojimbo. And lets not forget The Magnificent Seven. But is Miike's movie as successful in a time when cowboys are not the cinematic draw they once were?
As its title suggests Sukiyaki Western Django is an 'eastern' version of Corbucci's classic Django. Fans will probably enjoy spotting all the references, the mysterious stranger, a town ruled over by rival gangs, the gatling gun in a coffin etc but will quickly tire of this when it dawns on them that there's little else on offer. The plot is formulaic, the action nothing new, the characters are bland and two dimensional and Miike doesn't bring many stylish directorial flourishes to proceedings. In fact it's a somewhat erratic film on all fronts. But it's the acting that is glaringly at fault, and that doesn't just include the painful cameo from Quentin Tarantino.
At the root of this cinematic folly is the decision to have the actors speak English when it's blatantly obvious that they find this difficult. This renders the acting substandard and the dialogue cliché ridden and clunky. Maybe this was the intention as it's hard to tell if this is a serious movie or a tongue in cheek parody of Italian western conventions. Miike probably knows, and it seems that he made this as a selfish in-joke for himself and his mates. Sukiyaki Western Django is a flat, empty cinematic experience, overly self-conscious aiming for an ironic self knowing coolness, which it fails to achieve. It's full of nods and winks to other films in the cowboy genre at the expense of being an enjoyable movie in its own right. It amounts to little more than cinematic Karaoke and, much like Tarantino did in his Kill Bill films, Miike seems to be smugly shouting at the audience, "aren’t I cool for knowing all these cult genre flicks!"
Apart from the interesting costume design, which mixes classic western clothes and samurai armour with contemporary fashions, there is little to savour in this self indulgent mess. Even the final showdown set during a snowstorm (another nod to Corbucci) and the only time where the chambara and western genres entertainingly converge is basically too little too late. With the end credits comes a Japanese version of the Django theme which perfectly sums up the movie; a pointless cover version of a spaghetti western classic that only reminds fans what a great work the original was. If you really want to see a successful far eastern version of the spaghetti western genre then avoid Sukiyaki Western Django, watch Kim Ji-woon's The Good, The Bad, The Weird instead.
Japan’s most controversial director, notorious for his dauntingly prolific output and willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Miike started working as an assistant director in the late 80s, before moving into making straight-to-video thrillers in 1991. He made his feature debut in 1995 with the violent cop thriller Shinjuku Triad Society, and since then has averaged around seven films year.