Sydney Film Festival 2008: Sukiyaki Western Django

Hey guys, remember the 11th Japanese Film Festival? Shut up! We’re in Sydney Film Festival 2008! And we start with Japanese movies … Yeah, I’ll get there.

My first movie for this year’s festival was Miike Takashi’s Sukiyaki Western Django, a Japanese Western starring Japanese people, speaking exclusively in English. In Toronto, they got subtitles but we weren’t given this luxury. It’s not too hard to understand, but it can be a struggle – but a struggle that you shouldn’t regret.

A gunman arrives in a town where two rival gangs search for a treasure of legend. Each tries to woo him over to their side, but the gunman is not to be swayed: he plays his own damned side.

This is a genre film. As much of a wank as it seems to say, a good man to appear in a genre film is Quentin Tarantino. He shows up in the first scene, and shoots a snake out of mid-air and cuts out the egg contained within. Then he shoots a bunch of guys … then he eats sukiyaki. When he returns to the movie much, much later, he has redefined steam punk, and his English has worsened. He’s a funny addition to the movie, but the movie is supposed to be funny and he totally fails to steal the limelight from any of the main cast – which includes a multiple personalitied sheriff, an old business lady with a mysterious sharpness about her, a leader who insists on being addressed as Henry, and gangs of what can be best described as walking anachronisms.
It also has a dance scene with accompaniment by a didgeridoo.

Yeah, this is a genre film all right.

Sukiyaki Western Django is weird, but not for weirdness’ sake. It’s the sort of movie that I love but also the sort that others love to dismiss as a bunch of wank. It is a sort of labour of love, dedicated to a mixture of samurai and Western ideals – which we have learned, over the last sixty odd years, are exactly the same thing. If you want to see a bizarre amalgam that really benefits from the inclusion of subtitles (even for Tarantino!), then this is exactly the right thing to go for. Some of the gun work is deliberately stupid, some people can take insane levels of beating and shooting, but it all ends with exactly the sort of song that should end this movie – and that makes it worth anyone’s while.

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