Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sukiyaki Western: Django

Dude, I could tell you all about this movie, but I think you’re still just gonna have to see it for yourself. What it is is your basic spaghetti western homage directed by Takashi Miike (pronounced "mee-kay," I’m told), the insanely prolific sicko behind such cinematic mind-fucks as Audition and Ichi the Killer. Right there, that oughtta tell you that you’re in for some seriously weird shit. This is the guy who made somebody’s claymation uvula sing in The Happiness of the Katakuris. And that’s the closest thing he’s ever made to a movie that normal people could watch. To quote Peter Weller in the criminally underrated Shakedown, he is "new to the planet."

But it gets weirder. Not only is Sukiyaki Western: Django a Japanese western (as if you couldn’t tell from the title), but it’s a Japanese western that’s performed in the most heavily accented English you’ve ever heard in your life. They sound like Japanese hair metal band Loudness singing Oh-whoah! Lock and loll clazy ni-i-ight! I could only catch every third or fourth word, but that’s okay. Miike helpfully color-coded the movie so you could understand it visually.

See, people are gonna call this your standard Fistful of Dollars plot, where a mysterious stranger strolls into a town that is completely controlled by two warring gangs and proceeds to play both sides against the middle. Other, snootier people are going to call it the Yojimbo plot, because it came first and it’s the same movie, only with a ronin instead of a gunfighter. But I’m gonna take it all the way back to the beginning and call it the Red Harvest plot, since that’s the Dashiell Hammett book that they’re all based on. So there.

Anyway, I only bring this up to show that even when you can’t understand a word the characters are saying, you still know what’s going on because it’s such a timeless story. And besides, one gang wears red and the other wears white, so you can always tell who’s on what side. They all dress like gay post-apocalyptic anime motocross Furious Five members, but the white side is run by this glam nancyboy swordsman who only longs for a worthy opponent, while the red side is controlled by a complete moron thug pistolero who likes to take naps in the middle of battles. (He’s got the best line in the movie. After he splatters this dude’s blood all over the dude’s wife’s face, he says, "My favorite color. It looks goooood on you.") They’re both good villains, but the white guy is far more impressive. He’s able to shoot people from miles away by aiming into the wind so that his bullets take about 10 seconds to curve around and hit their target. Very cool.

So into this town rides this shadowy dude who’s quick on the draw and that’s about it. Not only does he have no character development whatsoever, but he has the worst accent in the movie. Honestly, I think that’s why they hired him. Just to fuck with you.

Did I mention that Quentin Tarantino plays two parts in this movie (well, two and a half if you count the flashbacks)? And that he also speaks with a heavy Japanese accent? He plays a badass gunfighter at the very beginning that you think is going to be the narrator who bookends the movie, sort of a tall-tale thing, except that he never comes back at the end. That negates the entire purpose of having bookends. If you only had one bookend, all of your books would tip over and fall onto the floor. But Miike doesn’t give a shit about your books. Let ’em fall, he says. Fuck your books. That’s the kind of dude we’re dealing with here. A goddamn anarchist.

Quentin (I call him Quentin because we’re old friends from all those DVD special features I watched) does shoot at least six people, though, splattering one of them all over an obviously fake painted backdrop of a sunset. And he does it all while tossing around a bloody rattlesnake egg that he stole from a CGI hawk (Technical note: This movie uses the vintage "hawk scream" sound effect more often than any movie since Steven Seagal’s classic directorial debut, On Deadly Ground). He looks like he’s having a fucking ball. Then he comes back at the halfway point, wearing about thirty pounds of latex as this ancient arms dealer in a clanky clockwork wheelchair. Quentin’s pseudo-Shatnerian acting style is almost always distracting, but this is without a doubt his best performance since From Dusk Til Dawn. There’s one part where, with just a look, he conveys a real sense of loss under all that makeup, and it’s actually kind of affecting. You’re like, Shit, Quentin, I didn’t know you had it in you. It’s a good moment because, for once, he doesn’t just seem like Quentin Tarantino. He seems like a real dude having a real emotion. Good job, man. Now can you please stop fucking around with shit like this and give us that four-hour war movie with Adam Sandler and Arnold Schwarzeneggar that you’ve been threatening to unleash on us since the late nineties? Please put down the bong and pick up the laptop. Do it for the children.

(Ed. note: Obviously this reference is woefully outdated, but I kept it for historical-type purposes.)

Anyway, this movie is full of crazy shit. There’s a scene where a hot chick who looks exactly like What’s-Her-Face from Lost (No, not just because they’re both Asian. God, I can’t believe you would even say something like that. That’s fucked up, man. I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.) does a weird interpretive dance, then lays down on the floor and pulls a foot-long string of jingle bells out of her throat. There’s one character who gets beat up and bullied by his own split personality, and another who gets his balls shot off so he becomes a crazy leaping eunuch. There’s a completely out-of-left field shot of a red-and-white mottled fetus growing out of a rose. Not to mention it’s the only movie ever where the title appears on giant CGI tofu. (This is almost as protein-rich a title card as Ichi the Killer, where the movie’s name gets spelled out in the main character’s cumshot.)

Despite the randomness, Sukiyaki Western still functions as a proper action movie, with lots of well-choreographed fistfights and shootouts. A lot of dynamite gets tossed around, and obviously, there’s one of those Civil War gatling guns that you have to crank like an old-timey movie camera. It also goes without saying that this gatling gun is stored in a coffin. You knew that because the word "Django" is in the title. For the uninitiated, Django was an old spaghetti western about a dude who dragged around a gatling gun in a coffin. It was so popular that the ever-imitative Italians made about a thousand rip-offs with the word "Django" in the title, even though only one of them (Django Returns) had anything to do with the original. "Django" kind of became code for "bad-ass western." So you can see that Miike is consciously playing with cinematic myth here. He even has a Japanese cover of the classic Django theme song over the end credits.

The movie’s main joke is that people with speaking parts can get shot about a million times before they die, while non-speaking extras go down easily and by the dozen. Miike brings this so far that it becomes like a Family Guy joke. It goes on so long that it’s funny, but then it goes too far and stops being funny, but then it keeps going until it becomes funny again. Then it goes on so much longer that you’re not sure it’s even supposed to be funny anymore, but then it goes on so much longer than that that it becomes even funnier than it was in the first place. Like the puking scene in Team America times 9/11 times a thousand.

Anyway, you should totally check this one out. It has a lot in common with Miike’s yakuza movies, in that the pace vacillates between rapid-fire sensory overload and lugubrious banality. (If you don’t know what "lugubrious" means, it means "mournful." If you did know, you’re a lot smarter than I was until about 9:30 last night when I looked it up.) It’s a lot easier to take than most of those movies, though, since he isn’t really going for the throat with the shock tactics like he usually does. The female characters (including the absolute hottest grandma in film history) don’t exactly get off easy, but at least they get to keep their nipples this time. For a space mutant like Takashi Miike, this might as well be Pretty Woman.

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