Thursday, January 15, 2009

sukiyaki western django [2007]

with a title like that you know your in for a film that is gonna be a series of pastiches of the beloved spaghetti western genre from the 1960s to the 1970s. sure enough this movie is just that series of pastiches. only a hardcore uber-geek would appreciate that. and to illustrate that point, every one's favorite uber-geek pop culture hipster, quentin tarantino, stars as ringo who begins this flick with a prologue of two warring clans, the reds v. the whites, battling it out for a mysterious treasure in a fantasia of arterial spray and sword and gunplay nestled in a mythic japanese village called nevada.

that's it for the plot. but the catalyst to start the war in earnest is a lone gunfighter who one morning enters the village on horseback and begins to play the reds against the whites and vice versa. there is also a woman with a young boy whose husband was murdered by the reds and who sought the protection of the whites, albeit at quite a cost to her own safety. and there is the protector of the treasure who is the grandmother of the young boy but in reality is an assassin called bloody benton who we first caught a glimpse in silhouette at the end of tarantino's prologue.

if that doesn't make any sense, well, okay, so what. filmmaker takashi miike's never been one for linear storytelling. i'm not a miike specialist but i've seen a number of his films which range from the sublime to the downright boring. miike is a daring filmmaker not just in the level of brutality and violence evinced by his actors but also by subject matter. he is not afraid to tackle historical subjects and musicals too. westerns i guess were next on his list.

but this is a deliberately anachronistic western. the action unfolds in japan, the actors are tattooed and pierced and their hair are dyed to match their clan affiliations. guns, crossbows and samurai swords are the weapons of choice. and there seems little doubt that miike knows his pastaland westerns.

this film works only if you let the story go and move within the images. the violence, as one would expect of a miike movie, is extreme. the actors do a credible job so much that there were a couple of scenes that had me cringing. how does miike get his actors to behave so forcefully? i know, they are actors, that is what actors do. yet, i think miike films at such a quick pace that getting such gut-level realism from his cast takes some doing. the actors themselves are very talented at their craft.

what i think is the most interesting aspect of this flick is miike filming it in english. the english spoken by the japanese cast is not a pidgin english or broken english. but it is, it seems, an english spoken with japanese inflections. most of the actors do not know english and those that do speak very fluently. i was fascinated however by the actors who were speaking english phonetically and thus sounded the most japanese. even tarantino gets into the act by speaking english for one section of the prologue in a japanese accent. miike seems fascinated by language. even in his movie ichi a significant character had a habit of switching from english to i think mandarin and a few other languages that i can't recall at the moment.

given that in this film miike was also using english as an homage to the italian actors speaking a phonetic english in the older spaghetti westerns perhaps there's an essay worthy of examining languages in miike's work. there is a violence of and polyphony of words there i think is utterly compelling as a writer and as a man living in our post-national, or pan-national, 21st century. perhaps the world is becoming the dublin imagined by joyce in his novels. i can hope for that even if we're not quite there.


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