Set around, in a strikingly offbeat way to, the 12th century Heike/Genji clan wars Sukiyaki Western Django is the tale of a mysterious gunman (played by Hideoki Ito) who comes into a nearly deserted once prospering town now controlled by the two rival groups. In a sense this is the Italian West going back to its roots, it's no secret Leone was greatly inspired by the works of Akira Kurosawa with Yojimbo serving as the blueprints for the maestro's own breakthrough with A Fistful of Dollars. Corbucci's own Django used the same basic premise and now Miike follows. After some flashy display of skill, and some attempts from the two clans to persuade him to join one of them the Gunman is persuaded by Ruriko one of the few residents who remain to help the townspeople. A series of flashbacks reveal much of the background and motives behind the two clans arrival. They also open the pathway to a subplot revolving around a tragically destroyed Genji/Heike family which plays a major part in the main plot. For those of you who deem themselves Tarantino fans will have much to be happy about as Tarantino plays a bad-ass, poncho-wearing gunslinger named Ringo who introduces us to the Heike/Genji conflict and plays an important part later on.
Style is of the essence and style is what Sukiyaki has. Though a tribute to Django this is nevertheless pure Miike cinema, expect that same weird humor, surreal kinetic action, with some sexual cues (although much restrained compared to some of his previous endeavors) he's become renowned for. It's a non stop joy ride beautifully shot, the impressive set design and backgrounds, the great costumes and yes a machine gun in coffin scene, pure poetry. This is not about realism, it is not about creating a believable world but about a world that responds to the mood that adapts according to it. The final showdown represents a collision of two worlds, two genres it is the ultimate fusion of samurai and western films, the duel between the gun and the sword. There are some lovely little references only noticeable to the more vigorous Django fans, and a truly awesome ending.
What might be my only gripe with Sukiayki is the choice of language. Having the Japanese cast speak in broken-down English does sort of lessen the experience not by much comparing to some of the horrendous English dubs in some Italian Westerns but still it would have been preferable using a Japanese language track with an optional English one. That's to say the dialogue itself is a pastiche of noticeable one-liner clichés, over the top silly yet listening to entire dialogues stitched together from over used lines has a remarkably refreshing effect on those lines.
Koji Endo composes the soundtrack, it is not his first time working with Miike and hopefully won't be the last. For the film he combined, the typical Morricone-sque western music with that of the Japanese samurai flick in a modern just lightly rock adaptation.
Sukiyaki Western Django pays homage to what is now a dead genre. Dead but not forgotten. Not by Takashi Miike who uses the tools of the Italian Western to bring forth his own vision, his own take on a story well known and loved and it is a true gem.