Kinda figured that would happen. That’s what I kept muttering to myself throughout Sukiyaki Western Django, Takashi Miike’s too-hip-for-the-room remix of West and East. It’s the kind of movie where someone fires a crossbow bolt at someone and they blast it back at you with a gun, and you sit there and go: Yeah, kinda figured that would happen. It’s not because I’ve lost the capacity to be surprised, I hope, but only because the movie’s so fundamentally dumb that they could have held the camera upside down and it wouldn’t have mattered. In fact, I think at one point they do.
The movie is, I guess, a retelling of the Genji and Heike struggles in the form of a stylized western, or maybe a reworking of Yojimbo in the context of same, but in reality it’s none of those things, neither history nor allegory nor even entertainment. It’s essentially an excuse for Miike to use all the stuff you see in westerns — the showdowns, the sets, the costumes, the clichés upon clichés — as raw material. The ingredients were pretty banal to begin with, but the end result is a horrible mess. It’s strawberry jam on pasta instead of fusion cuisine, and it is quite possibly Miike’s worst and most thoroughly unwatchable movie yet. Yes, even worse than Izo, for those of you who thought Izo was a mess. At least Izo had the courage of its experimental convictions; Django is wholly pointless and insufferable.
Look no further than the opening sequence for a good encapsulation of the movie’s attitude — or rather, an encapsulation of the fact that the movie is all attitude and nothing else. Quentin Tarantino appears as a gunslinger, explains the movie’s Heike/Genji concept (employing a ghastly parody of an Asian accent, to boot), and gets into a shootout that decorates the obviously-studio-set background with obviously-fake blood. No story, just endless posturing, both by the cast and the director.
The movie proper is set in some nowhere frontier town, where the Heike and Genji clans have both come looking for gold alleged to be buried there. A lone gunslinger comes along (kinda figured that would happen) and starts offering his services to both sides (ditto). Characters come and go, relaying speeches and narrating big dollops of on-screen backstory with equal lack of engagement on our part. The actors are forced to mouth their dialogue in badly over-accented English, so much so that the only way to follow the goings-on is to turn on the subtitles and pray for the best.
Here and there you can spot some talented people under the ratty costuming and behind the overbearing false-color cinematography — Masanobu Ando, Yusuke Iseya, Renji Ishibashi, Hideaki Ito, and who knows how many other folks — but it’s all in vain. Just like in that line about the tolling of the Gion Temple Bell, echoing the impermanence of all things — a quote repeated ad nauseam here, in case you didn’t get it the first time. Word has it that the U.S. version was shorn by 20 minutes, but from what I see here they should have kept right on cutting.