I don’t know how many of you like Westerns or Japanese movies, so today, we look at both with this bizarre Sukiyaki Western Django from 2007.
During the savage feudal era, we arrive in the dirty, dusty streets that separate two dangerous rival gangs, the white Genji and the red Heike.
The struggle for control of a mysterious treasure hidden in the lonely village of Yuta becomes the epicenter of a bloody battle.
The leaders of both clans, Yoshitsune of the Genji and Kiyomori of the Heike, rule unchecked over the life and death of anyone, led only by their ruthless ambition, with no mercy toward anyone.
One day, a mysterious gunman emerges on the horizon, whose extraordinary abilities catch the interest of both groups, who immediately try to recruit him.
Despite his seeming indifference, he exploits the rivalry for his own gain and offers himself as a mercenary to both sides, maintaining a precarious balance between Genji and Heike, all the while hiding his true motivations carefully; despite it is evident he has an open account with both clans, bound by an unhappy past that gives him no peace.
Amidst this violence also lives the innocent Shizuka, a helpless pawn in this bloody power game, along with Ruriko, a lonely mother and widow coerced to serve both clans for the sake and protection of her son.
The gangs and the gunslinger are not the only ones looking for the treasure because in the shadows is the ominous presence of Bloody Benten, another nameless gunslinger from bandit legends.
For all these wacky people, the judgment hour is getting closer with no chance of redemption, except for the few survivors who will be rewarded with only their lives and the opportunity to live another day to keep fighting.
A merry-go-round of movie references
The primary inspiration for the 2007 Sukiyaki Western Django lies not only in the well-known spaghetti western Django but also in Akira Kurosawa‘s timeless Yōjinbō, a movie with universal resonance that has made an indelible mark on the world of cinema.
Famous masterpieces drink from Kurosawa’s inexhaustible fountain, foremost Sergio Leone‘s first western, A Fistful of Dollars, an iconic opus rewriting all the classic genre’s rules.
Also on the same plot is Walter Hill‘s entertaining Last Man Standing, a further demonstration of how, while shamelessly copying the original subject, it can change in new and original ways.
The question arises: why so much fascination with Yōjinbō?
Because the answer is as simple as it is powerful: the foundation created by Kurosawa is as plain as it is engaging, a universal archetype serving as a blank canvas on which artists of all kinds can imprint the myriad colors of their own vision and imagination.
Emerging in this landscape of talent is the indefatigable Takashi Miike, a significant player in the worldwide cinematic landscape of unquestionable dynamism, with more than a hundred movies made from the 1990s onward.
His output varies among the many facets and genres of filmmaking involving many different target audiences, yet joined by a distinctive approach speaking loud and clear at all times and an extreme mastery of cinematic languages.
In the specific case of this Django remake/prequel, it comes across as an almost cartoonish-looking action, loaded with over-the-top personal drama and adrenaline-filled fights.
The movie overflows with endless homages and quotations, so widespread and interlacing with each other as to almost be basically a parody of the Western genre, where there is a whiff of a love for cinema embracing its entire history, from the immortal classics to the most daring experimentations.
No one is safe in this city
As uninvited guests, we enter a city we never saw before, visiting this heath of godforsaken land through the eyes of the unnamed protagonist, played by the incisive Hideaki Itō, an enigmatic silent anti-hero whose fascinating charisma is as appropriate as ever for the role.
The atmosphere is an intriguing blend of styles that we can’t really explain, as if John Ford and Sergio Leone had an illegitimate child who later grew up to be a great manga lover.
A palpable tension in this world permeates the air constantly, with the inhabitants seeming to desire only our death or alliance. However, just like Itō, we remain unflinching and distant as external pressures just vanish.
Despite our indifference, even the most offbeat characters, such as the eccentric and brutal Yusuke Iseya, feel a kind of respect for us.
This does not prevent them from inflicting brutal punishment on us when we betray their secrets to their adversary, Kōichi Satō, whom I personally found the least convincing and exciting figure among the unusual troop of this western.
Beyond these dynamics, the plot does an unexpected flip at that moment, upsetting the existing order of things. The character of Ruriko, masterfully played by Kaori Momoi, gains significant weight after initially seeming to be just another victim of the uncontrollable violence that dominates the town, similar to the sweet and hapless Shizuka, played by Yoshino Kimura.
It soon becomes clear that there is a more complex design behind the sad affair of Ruriko and her family. Here the character of Piringo, portrayed with an almost caricatured expression by Quentin Tarantino, finally gains meaning after the initial opening.