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.
6 Comments
7 Comments
Edited by jakob187
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.
Posted by Chaser324

I must say that I was very disappointed by this movie. One of the first things that bothered me was the fact that the movie was English language, but a large portion of the cast can't speak English very clearly. Why not just stick with the native tongue? I certainly don't mind reading subtitles. That along with the unengaging plot just left me feeling very "meh" about this film.

Moderator
Posted by jakob187

I quite enjoyed the heavily accented English.  It does kind of suck that there was no Japanese track done for the movie at all, but given that this was meant for the Western (meaning our side of the world, not the genre) audiences more than the Eastern, I can see why they would do it.  Also, in terms of style...it kind of throws backs to all those horribly done English dubs of old...except works great for me.  To be honest, the English track was part of what kept me going, just because it made the movie a bit more fun to watch.  I just don't think the role of the Sheriff would've been as funny if they had done it in Japanese.

That's another thing.  Comedic timing is hard to pull off with any form of subtitles, and to have the subtitles be a FORCED portion of the movie rather than just using an English track would've taken away from portions of the film.

I still thoroughly enjoy the film...but it just has a lot of the flaws that keeps Miike's films underground rather than breaking to the mainstream.  That's fine and all, but it would be nice to see what this dood could do with a BIG budget.

I could only pray that DiCaprio considers Miike to direct the live-action Akira movies he's working on.  =  D
Posted by HandsomeDead

I thought the English with the strong japanese accent quite funny and entertaining at times if hard to follow. Masanobu Ando seemed to be the only one with a good grasp on my native tongue, not to mention how old he made me feel seeing him all grown up after Battle Royale which was eight years ago now.

Posted by jakob187
HandsomeDead said:
"I thought the English with the strong japanese accent quite funny and entertaining at times if hard to follow. Masanobu Ando seemed to be the only one with a good grasp on my native tongue, not to mention how old he made me feel seeing him all grown up after Battle Royale which was eight years ago now."
Mmmm....Battle Royale.  Sad that the sequel was such a travesty.  =  (  Still need to get BR on DVD.
Posted by HandsomeDead
jakob187 said:
"HandsomeDead said:
"I thought the English with the strong japanese accent quite funny and entertaining at times if hard to follow. Masanobu Ando seemed to be the only one with a good grasp on my native tongue, not to mention how old he made me feel seeing him all grown up after Battle Royale which was eight years ago now."
Mmmm....Battle Royale.  Sad that the sequel was such a travesty.  =  (  Still need to get BR on DVD."
Battle Royale means so much to me as a film that I was borderline insulted by the sequel. That was easily one of the top 10 worst films I have ever seen.
Posted by jakob187

BR was a sweet movie just because it was a sweet movie.  It's almost unexplainable why that movie was so sweet.  I dig alternate world stuff like that, though.

I don't know how familiar you are with Miike's previous work, but you should definitely check out Audition if you've never seen it, and watch Visitor Q just because it's so fucking weird.