Sukiyaki Western Django - Movie Review

For those unfamiliar with Takashi Miike and the worlds he creates, just plug in a copy of Audition, Ichi The Killer, or Imprint and watch the gruesome brutality and subversive subtlety in every frame and movement he makes.  With a reputation for bloody and vulgar violence mixed with saddening emotion, he paints a vision that must be seen to be believed.  It's no wonder that he ends up being considered by the underground film world as one of the most influential directors in Asia.  Despite the visual attack that he barrages any viewer with, there is always still a slight melancholy to his work that is hard to get past, potentially causing the movie to lose some appeal upon further viewings.

Sukiyaki Western Django is the latest film to come from the mind of Miike, and while it takes many cues from the great spaghetti Westerns of our time, it also mixes just enough Eastern culture to create something compelling and comical.  At the same time, that same melancholy that infects his other films shows up a bit more often in Sukiyaki, causing the movie to be only for the most diehard of his followers...and maybe for the diehard Western fans as well.

Yusuke Iseya plays Yoshitsune to perfection
The journey through Sukiyaki is not an easy one to follow, and for good reason:  the times that Miike focuses too hard on one character in any given time, he lets too much of the character show, dissolving away any mysticism they may have carried.  The prime of the story focuses on a "War of the Roses", so to speak, as the Genji (aka Whites) and Heike (aka Reds) gangs have taken over a small mining town in the hopes that they can recover a huge treasure box full of gold while surviving the constant feud.  The leader of the Reds, Kiyomori, is more interested in gunning down anyone in his way while focusing on being called Henry after reading Henry VI by Shakespeare.  Meanwhile, the leaders of the Whites, Yoshitsune, has developed a perfect balance of combat, excelling at both the gun and the sword...and it shows.  Played with perfection by Yusuke Iseya (Casshern), the character of Yoshitsune is a very well-developed character that allows for breathing room with a subtle but effective performance.  

There is also the lone Gunslinger that wanders into town to settle the feud by offering his services to find the treasure, but he soon becomes embroiled in a larger plot that involves murder, greed, lust, vengeance, and discovery.  It's through the eyes of the Gunslinger that we see the truth, but so much is given away about the characters' past and emotions that it's hard to really get attached to him for long.  From here, the bevy of characters can get rather entangled:  

  • The local eye-candy temptress, Shizuka, and her son Mura who is incapable of speaking after watching his father murdered before his eyes
  • The mysterious older lady, Ruriko, with an unforgettable past
  • The messenger, Toshio, who is in love with Ruriko but won't admit it to her
  • The sheriff, Hoanka, who suffers from split-personality disorder
  • The white man, Ringo (played by Quentin Tarantino), who has a greater hand to play in everything than is to be believed at first

All of the stories tie together far better than a movie like Crash or Babel could ever pull off, but only 2 of those characters really get a chance to develop into something worthwhile.  The rest just dissolve into the background and play their parts.  This was something that never happened in Ichi the Killer, and the lack of overtly unnecessary characters also created an eerie yet oddly romantic setting for Audition.  Unfortunately, just comb over pieces like Visitor Q and The City of Lost Souls, and you will find that the excess of uninteresting characters creates that melancholy you can't escape.  Whether it's something that Miike does on purpose or not, it causes the viewer to become detached easily and lose interest when they need to be focusing harder.

One of the most visually amazing scenes...and it's at the end of the film
The visual effects for the film are well done, and many are used in a way that enhances the story.  Flashbacks are shot with extreme exposure, while current day pieces are shot with vivid color and fluidity.  A throwback to John Ford-style Westerns opens the movie, using an obviously painted skyline (especially obvious when blood splatters on it and stays)...but the whole part feels absolutely necessary in the way it is shot.  More impressive feats, like watching an arrow fly through the hole that used to be someone's stomach and into another gang member, really show off just how talented the post-crew working on this film is.  One of my favorite moments comes near the midpoint of the film, as Kiyomori has gotten his hands on a rather impressive weapon.  Yoshitsune, however, catches up with him and fires strategic shots from his pistols in order to hit Kiyomori.  There are so many little things in those scenes that make them far bigger than they would've been otherwise, such as seeing the bullets flying through the air (frame-by-frame shows a remarkable amount of detail put into each shot for added realism) and the actor's reaction to each shot sell the CGI that much better.  There are tons of subtle effects added as well, and unless you put them under a microscope (such as some added blood effects and even smoke), you could swear to God almighty that they were full-on live action shots with no CGI manipulation.

The bummer of the movie comes in the fact that character development isn't dispersed very well amongst everyone, causing you to lose interest in some of the people you should care about the most.  Rape and murder shouldn't be easy things to see in a movie, and this does happen to be the one time Miike held back on the rape part quite a bit.  Even during those scenes, there's almost a lack of caring...which proves to be quite sad.  There is so much focus put onto this war between the Whites and the Reds that they could've probably cut half of the characters out completely and just used the Whites, the Reds, the Gunslinger, and Ruriko and had a superb film.  Instead, Sukiyaki Western Django comes off as yet another Miike film that will cater more to his diehard fans than the average viewer while stirring up fond memories of Corbucci, Kurosawa, and Leone.
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EndWar First Impressions

I came into work early today, like usual, to sit down and play some Fallout 3 for a little bit.  However, when I walked in, we had four fresh copies of Tom Clancy's EndWar!!!  I've been looking forward to the game just to see how well the voice commands work, but also to see if it's a good real-time strategy game in general.  There were quite a few guys on the forums that were wanting to see a little more of it past the demo before they made any renting/buying decisions, and so I have taken this as an opportunity to hook you doods up!!!

I had brought my camcorder with me to work, as I was going to use it to film some of Fallout 3 for my own personal blog on MySpace, but I decided that GB guys come first for once.

The video is in black and white, unfortunately, as I just got the camcorder a couple of days ago and have been playing around with it.  When I was doing some stuff for the personal blog yesterday, I left it in black and white.  Sorry about that.  Yes, you do see my ugly mug in the video, as I give a couple of criticisms and such at the end.

I was going to tack on a piece that involved showing you guys my workplace, but unfortunately, I wanted to keep the video under 8 minutes.

Enjoy, and if you have any questions, let me know.  If I don't have the answer to the questions, I'll be playing the game for the next couple of days to get a review up...so I'll get back to it when I get the chance and/or knowledge needed.

  

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The Lost resurfaced as Agni: Queen of Darkness?

A long time ago, before Bioshock was in development and Irrational was bought out by 2K and changed their name, Ken Levine and Co. were making a game that I was greatly looking forward to called The Lost.  The basis of the story was that you played this waitress named Amanda whose daughter is killed in a car crash.  You make a deal with the Devil to journey into the bowels of Hell in order to save your daughter's soul.  Pretty cool stuff, and the version of Hell in the game was loosely based on Dante's Divine Comedy, specifically the Inferno portion.
The game went through development hell and got cancelled.  It was being co-developed by a company in India called FX Labs.

Apparently, FX Labs got ahold of the rights after a while, updated the game a bit, changed a few things to fit for the Indian market, and released Agni: Queen of Darkness this year!!!  I was completely unaware of this until, thankfully, krazedkaoz on these very boards mentioned something about City of Metronome, and there was a video on YouTube showing old game footage from The Lost that happened to mention something about Agni: Queen of Darkness.

I remember talking to Ken Levine a bit about The Lost back when I was writing for BonusStage.  We were doing an article about games that were cancelled but people were still looking forward to.  The Lost was at the top of our list, and for good reason.  I mean, it's fucking Irrational, man!!!  Freedom Force?  System Shock?  Deep Cover?  Shit yeah, we were psyched.  Every time I would e-mail Ken about it, it just sounded like his heart was ripped out over the whole thing.

I found a review for Agni here, for anyone who wants to check out some stuff about it.  I'm really curious about how to get my hands on a copy of this to check it out, as it still has the whole thing with the Entities in the game.

What about you guys?  What long lost games that were cancelled do you wish someone would pick back up and give another chance?  I'm sure we'll get a lot of folks saying "Starcraft: Ghost" and such, but let's really dig on this, folks.

Also, for those curious to know about The Lost:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lost_(video_game)
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1 Post

I've had a lot of people ask me, "jakob187, why do you only have 1 post when I see you trolling the fuck out of the forums"?  Usually I'll answer this with some silly bullshit like "because my posts are better than yours" or "because your mom" or whatever I can come up with (which is typically not as funny as my face in the mirror).

Either way, here's your explanation, folks:

It's glitched.

Simple as that.  When I signed up for GB, apparently it was on the same day as the summer solstice coming around while the Wicker Man festival was starting and I was listening to Green Day's Dookie backwards while watching Breakfast at Tiffany's...or something along those lines.  In turn, there was a freak electrical shock accident very much akin to Mel Gibson's in What Women Want (minus the whole dress-up shtick...I don't go out like that) and VWA-LA!  I only get 1 post.  I was at 0 posts for a long time, but I guess Jeff or Ryan or maybe even Snide (I know he's out to get me) tripped over the wrong cord that was keeping my posts from rising...and in turn, I got 1 post somehow.  I've begged for them to take it away, but they won't.  Well, they say they CAN'T...but I don't believe that.  = D

And honestly, I LIKE having no posts showing.  There are plenty of post whores on any forum board, and I like knowing that when I post, it's not because I'm trying to achieve a fucking number.  I don't even really want points.  Sure, it would be nice to do live edits, but whatever.  I'm cool with the mods looking through it (although I sadly don't contribute much and the mods probably hate having to approve shit).  If anything, I get messages from them and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So you guys can continue to enjoy your post whoring and your numbers.  I'm hoping mine never rises.  If it does...I might just have to stop coming here.  o.O

Piece, fools.  Until next time...
31 Comments

/delete cutscenes plz

For those who know me on the forums, I'm a bit of a hard-ass when it comes to criticisms about games (and specifically, a ton of games that you guys seem to like).  However, the biggest criticism that I have overall about many video games is the use of cutscenes and/or cinematics to tell the story in a game.
Back in the days of the PS1, cinematics were fine.  The graphics weren't that great (although at the time, they seemed more than thrilling), so developers wanted something prettier to tell the story with.  That's all fine and dandy, and it moved into the PS2 and Xbox generation in about a half-there appearance.  Now that we are in the current generation, where in-game graphics can meet or rival some of the pre-rendered cinematics we would've seen, we get a ton of cutscenes.  Here's the problem, though:  it's not helping the cause of the game in most cases.
Most development studios seem to use cinematics and cutscenes as a way of being lazy, so that they don't have to program all the stuff being in-game.  When you look at games like Half-Life or Bioshock, where the story is unfolded through the progression of the game with little to no cutscenes, it's difficult to believe that people continue to fool around with the junkiness and non-immersion of cutscenes...especially in something like (and flame me later for saying it) Metal Gear Solid 4.  When the series first started on PS1, it was all fine and dandy.  It was new to us.  Now, cutscenes are old news.  I have never enjoyed watching my games (even when it was something I was super-psyched for...as I point my finger at Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2).  MGS has never really done much for me.
There are times where, sure, cinematics and cutscenes are almost necessary because it's something that is nigh impossible to show in-game.  I look at a handful of the stuff in The Force Unleashed and think "yes, that had to be a cinematic"...but the majority of it could've been very easily integrated into the game if the studio would've taken the time to do so.
Then I look at games like Fracture, which aren't amazing or great or are barely even able to be considered a game...but their use of cutscenes is dramatically better than most other people.  Using the same basic principle and idea as the original Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, the game background-loads behind a cutscene instead of loading with a loading screen showing.  This provides a non-stop form of action which I like (and yes, I'm aware that many other games do it...but I felt Fracture - despite the horrific video quality - did it very well).
There's also Dead Space, which just from the small amount of time that I've played in the game makes me want to point at the game and scream out, "HEY, DEVELOPERS - THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT CORRECTLY".
Flawlessly telling a story is far from impossible, but it is also challenging.  Nonetheless, I would love it if developers would open their eyes a little wider and see that there is almost no point for cinematics and/or cutscenes anymore.  Storytelling can easily be integrated in-game and become the floating standard for a while to come very easily.  Immersion is not about having a gigantic open-world to run around in, nor is it Havok physics engine v6,958.  It's making sure that your players do not miss out on the world because of a design choice that could potentially take them away from the world they are trying to experience.
Therefore, my plea is:  developers, plz /delete cutscenes.
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It's the fans' fault!

Blame it on all the fools that have made StarCraft live on for the last 10+ years, because Blizz now knows that they'll pay anything for the game, even if it's $150 for all the campaigns.  The all-might dollar is the biggest deciding factor for any company, and all the fans voted the way they THOUGHT was good.

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I was ready for WAR and I got more than a stupid T-shirt!!!

...okay, so I didn't get a t-shirt actually.

First, @Kontrapunkt:  Kingdom Hearts was not an MMORPG.  MMO means "massively multiplayer online".  Kingdom Hearts was single-player action RPG.  Just giving ya the heads-up on that.  = D

Second, I've been playing WoW since right after it came out, and I played a ton of Guild Wars before that...as well as dabbled in DAoC before THAT.  So far, Warhammer exceeds every expectation I had for it...and those expectations, over the course of time, were not very good.  Every gameplay video I saw had a dood standing there, being boring...and that's what I thought I was going to see:  boredom.  Then, right before this came out, I checked out Battle March (I know, RTS, but it's Warhammer still)...and it WAS utterly boring.  Therefore, I really wasn't confident in WAR being worthwhile.

At Rank 3 on my Marauder, I realized that I was going to quit WoW and throw away three years of work on two level 70 toons for WAR.

They just did everything very well.  I can see where you are saying, Jeff, about there being no hand-holding...and I LIKE that.  It means you have to SEARCH and EXPLORE for stuff.  That's the point, ya know.  I don't want another WoW hand-holding session.  I want to learn shit on my own.  Maybe that's just me.  As far as the trade-skills...yeah, I'm COMPLETELY lost on that shit.  There could've been something for it, but there probably is something in the Tome or the Help section or something.  I'm just not that interested in all of it right now.  I also went salvaging/talisman-crafting, mostly I think because I neglected my jewelcrafting skills on my mage in WoW.  lol

In short, WAR is a solid MMO with a very solid launch.  WoW killer?  Eh.  WoW contender?  Definitely.
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