Monday, November 24, 2008

Sukiyaki Western Django: Grade A

Sukiyaki Western Django
Hideaki Ito. Masanobu Ando, Koichi Sato, Kaori Momoi, Quentin Tarantino; Co-writer & Director: Takashi Miike. (Japanese, mostly in English, some dubbed).

This is a tongue-in-cheek remake and homage to the Leone/Eastwood 1964 classic spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars. A nameless gunman bids his services to two rival gangs competing for hidden gold, as in the original. Innumerable fistfights and gunfights ensue. But instead of a dry, dusty town in the American west, these scenes take place in a wet, muddy town in rural Japan. There is a fascinating mix of 19th century Japanese and Southwestern US architecture and culture. Curly-eaved, lacquered classical Japanese buildings sit alongside clapboard saloons and liveries. The Japanese saloon is especially fun. It looks mostly like a ryokan, with shoji windows and wooden barrels for stools but there is a huge set of Texas longhorns mounted over the bar. The swinging saloon doors have Asian scrimshaw instead of louvers. Several times I had to pause the DVD to admire the creativity and wit that went into set design. Costumes are the same way. And above all, the filmmakers got the two things right that you must get right in a spaghetti, the colors and the sound of the gunshots. Both were perfect.

While the story line was very close to complete nonsense, the acting was engaging and the dialog witty. Directing is strong, cinematography exceptional, and the scenery beautiful. Tarantino’s small part at the beginning sets you up for satire, but the film takes itself pretty seriously overall. There are references to the samurai tradition, and visual allusions to Kurosawa. I am probably overrating the film because I am such a fan of satire, the spaghetti genre, Japanese film, and Tarantino, so this was a delight for me.

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