Release Year: 2007
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Hideaki Ito, Koichi Sato, Yusuke Iseya, Masanobu Ando, Masato Sakai, Yoji Tanaka, Renji Ishibashi, Sansei Shiomi, Quentin Tarrantino
Screenplay: Masuru Nakamura, Takashi Miike
Music: Koji Endo
Editor: Taiji Shimamura
Producer: Hirotsugi Yoshida, Toshinori Yamaguchi
I figure if you’re the type to watch a film called Sukiyaki Western Django then you’ve probably watched your fair share of world cinema – and most likely the odd samurai film – and while this film is a western it still owes a debt to the samurai films of the past – even a gunshot wound can produce an arterial spray reminiscent of those in a Zatoichi film.
But first and foremost, this film obviously is a weird hybrid homage to spaghetti westerns. Actually it’s probably just plain ‘westerns’ in general, as there are quite a few allusions to classic American westerns, in particular there’s a nice moment where there is trumpet player in the mountains, and the tune he plays echoes ‘Duegolo’ – the song of the cut-throats from Rio Bravo. And there’s also some stuff from The Magnificent Seven, but as Seven was based on The Seven Samurai, I guess that a bit of a genre homecoming…but I’ll talk more about that a bit later on.
The most obvious reference however, is Sergio Corbucci’s Django – even going so far as to have a wooden coffin dragged through the mud, containing a secret weapon. If you don’t know what’s inside, well I’m not going to tell you!
But to enjoy this film, your knowledge of spaghetti westerns does not have to be particularly broad – the ones of display are the more accessible ones such as Fistful of Dollars, Fistful of Lead, The Big Silence and even God’s Gun (is that a spaghetti western or a matzah ball western?).
I hate to admit it, but I went into this film fully prepared to hate it. The premise alone – a Japanese spaghetti western – just reeks of trying too hard to produce a cult hit. It’s sort of like when Tarrantino and Rodriguez did their Grindhouse flicks, and failed because when you’re trying deliberately to make a grindhouse flick, you sort of undo the point of it being a grindhouse flick – if you know what I mean? I thought the same thing for Sukiyaki Western Django. The film is cravenly grasping for cult status – and as such I believed it could not achieve it. And to be honest, I don’t think it does achieve it – but despite my misgivings the film did win me over as a fun slice of retro entertainment.
However, before I was won over, there was one other hurdle to get over – and that was the Quentin Tarrantino introductory sequence. Tarrantino plays the role of Piringo. Thankfully it’s not just a scene tacked on to the beginning for American audiences – as it has a linking sequence later in the film – which makes sense of the whole thing. But this cow-catcher is not truly indicative of the style of the film, which reverts to a more traditional story telling technique.
If there is an irony to this film, I’d guess it is the fact that the first really big spaghetti western, Fistful of Dollars was based on Akira Kurasowa’s Yojimbo. And as I alluded to earlier, The Magnificent Seven was also based on a Kurasowa film, The Seven Samurai. So the Japanese Samurai films has been a pivotal source of inspiration for the western genre in the 1960s. In Sukiyaki Western Django, director Takashi Miike is reclaiming some of his countries ‘intellectual property’ as it were, by hijacking the western film, and combining it with his own stylised samurai fable. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition, and one that subtly asks the question – which parts of the film are Japanese, and which are American or Italian?