Throughout history Japan has been known to borrow things from other countries and make them their own. Among those Japanese imports are Kanji characters (China), Beer (Germany), Baseball (America), Pei Yong Jun (South Korea), Gwen Stefani (America), and most recently, spaghetti western movies like Sukiyaki Western Django by the master of stylized violence, Takahashi Miike. In this beautifully choreographed film, Miike takes us to a small town overrun by two groups of treasure hunters at the height of a gold rush. Lead by a barbaric Kiyomori (Koichi Sato), the red Heike gang takeover the town until a graceful Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya) and his white Genji clan drop by with their own plans for domination. With both factions in a cease-fire, our hero, a nameless Clint Eastwood meets John Wayne type, played by renowned Japanese television star, Hideaki Ito, reaches the town and finds himself at the epicenter of a looming gun battle between the gangs.
While the movie’s premise appears to be simple enough it’s how Miike tells us the story that makes it so unique; most notably, the choice to have famous Japanese actors perform their lines entirely in English. After watching the movie’s first five minutes its obvious the actors do not really speak English, and they probably memorized their lines phonetically like Antonio Banderas did in another western-themed film called Desperado. The elaborate costume designs by Michiko Kitamura combined with Takahashi Sasaki’s artistic direction transformed the scenic Yamagata location into a mud-filled bloody battleground. Sasaki was also a set designer for 2003’s Kill Bill Vol. 1, where he worked alongside another Django cast member, Quentin Tarantino, who makes a guest appearance as the sukiyaki eating gunslinger that kills SMAP’s Shingo Katori before the opening credits. Best intro I’ve seen since the opening sequence for the film, Way Of The Gun back in 2000.
Sukiyaki Western Django is a breathtaking cinematic experience that keeps you guessing until the last shot is fired. Once you get beyond the awkward English, inconceivable cross-culture pollinations, and outdated clichés all that will remain is a captivating visual masterpiece that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before; thus, making spaghetti westerns the newest concept to be embraced by Japanese culture. You don’t want to miss it.