By jakob187 7 Comments
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.
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.
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.