Friday, November 27, 2009

Sukiyaki Western Django

I think the first film by Takashi Miike - director of today's entry, Sukiyaki Western Django I saw was one Dead or Alive, which ended with an absolutely insane final battle, where the two characters grabbed increasingly gigantic weapons, culminating in a bazooka. It was bizarre, and I got the sense that Miike ended the film that way because he could. That impression translates to the entire movie with Django. Miike is doing things because he can, though we do get some indication of why.

While I once said that Yojimbo was what would have been a western had Japan colonized the Americas, Django takes that idea and runs with it. Yojimbo, along with other westerns, and about a billion different pictures, are all referenced and played with here. We've got the story of two warring factions, one in red, one in white. Into town rides a lone gunman, Hideaki Ito. He enters the elaborate conflict between the two sides with both barrels, in sequences that feel quite heavily inspired by Yojimbo. On the way, we get references to the Tales of the Heike - a Japanese story I don't know much about - and Shakespeare's Henry VI.

Really though, this film references 100 years of film history, connecting it all together with one simple truth - in film, you can do anything you want. This seems to be the guiding principal behind Miike's entire cinematic oeuvre, and here we see him dabbling in pretty much everything he can think of. There's slapstick, silly jokes, romance, inventive, allusive, allegorical, and sometimes just plain beautiful imagery, tragedy and pure action. Anything that has been, and can be done with film is done here, and one can't help but get taken away with it.

Not that it's perfect, in fact there's one glaring fault. See, we have a movie that was made in Japan, with a Japanese cast (and Quentin Tarantino, being less annoying than usual, but still pretty annoying). So, what's the language used? English. It's the ESL happy hour, and the actors are clearly very uncomfortable actually acting in the language. It's a bit awkward, and isn't really fair to the cast.

It says a lot then that the rest of the film continues to be quite entertaining in spite of the obvious language hurdles. The best thing about the whole experience is that we're taken for a ride by a director that knows, deep within his heart, that cinema can mean anything you want it to. In each frame, you can see how decades of watching and learning about film has informed his style and taught him the power of a good movie. Cinema can make you laugh, make you cry, shock, stun and awe. As any fan of film knows, cinema can be anything. Here, it is absolutely everything.

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