September 13, 2008

‘Sukiyaki’ Has Flavor of Japanese Spaghetti Western

By Bob Strauss

Spaghetti Westerns and samurai films have shared sensibilities since Sergio Leone remade Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" as "A Fistful of Dollars." But the two genres have never been mashed up quite as crazily as Takashi Miike has done it in "Sukiyaki Western Django."

It's got gunfighters and horses and cowboy hats, but it's definitely set in Japan. (When, exactly, is purposely unclear, but there is a Gatling gun). Though it is specifically inspired by the Django series, fans of Italian Westerns in general will have a field day spotting the wide range of references. But there's also swordplay and wire work and guys who won't die, so Asian fusion is also the order of the day.

Quentin Tarantino has a small role in a weird, Kabuki-inspired framing device and, later, under gobs of old-age makeup. Other than that, it's an all-Japanese cast speaking poorly pronounced English, which is kind of funny at first but eventually just makes the awkward dialogue sound worse.

The story is a typical one from both film traditions: A sharp- shooting stranger comes into a town divided between two warring gangs/clans/factions, and there's more than one revenge motive involved.

But Miike typically takes this stuff to extreme, sometimes surreal limits. One of Japan's most prolific filmmakers, he knows how to stage violence ("Audition,""Ichi the Killer"). He knows how to create weird visual flourishes for no reason other than they (usually) look cool. He doesn't always know where his story's going, or how to tell it. But that doesn't matter much in the face of such a loving, bloody valentine to B movies that sometimes rose to the level art and, in other cases, didn't need to.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

[email protected]


>R: violence, sex, nudity, language, children in peril.

>Starring: Quentin Tarantino, Yuske Iseya.

>Director: Takashi Miike.

>Running time: 1 hr. 38 min.

>Playing: Nuart, West L.A..

>In a nutshell: Japanese spaghetti Western that's both faithful to its Italian antecedents and way out on its own wacky wavelength.

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