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Review: Sukiyaki Western Django

This is an unusual movie. Produced with an all-Japanese cast (except Quentin Tarantino), it unites 12th century Japan and 19th century Nevada. It is in English, but as though the characters (not the actors) had agreed to use that language beforehand for reasons of their own. Accents are thick, sometimes to the point of incomprehensibility, and in moments of surprise or stress they revert to Japanese. That’s ok, in a film like this, the dialogue really isn’t the point.

I knew all of the above, but little else, before starting the film. The biggest surprise for me was that in many respects, this movie works best when taken as a comedy. It’s a goofy, self-referential piece which doesn’t mind abandoning its dignity for a laugh. It happens to be a blood-drenched tale of a chest of gold which turns a peaceful mining village into a battlefield as well, but that’s the setting, not the genre.

This isn’t to say that the Western aspects aren’t done well. It turns out that six-shooters and samurai mix surprisingly well; the cultural traditions which both stem from have a lot in common. The wandering warrior, the feuding clans trapped in a small town, the tragic lovers who try to overcome the enemty of their people; all of these elements have their place. If there is a problem with the way these themes are used, it is that the director tried to use as many as he could think of without much regard for whether they were really necessary. However, in this case at least, it’s just a case of prioritizing the humor over the plot.

Comparisons to Kill Bill are inevitable given Tarantino’s name in the credits. There are similarities; neither film hesitates to make ultraviolence and horrible murder into a laughing matter. However, that movie took itself seriously; this one does not. Whereas that movie took the trouble to stick to a plot, this one is happy to repeat a simple pattern from beginning to end: funny scene, cool violent scene, touching scene. It is a credit to the director and cast that it succeeds at all of these.

This is not a movie for kids. It is not a movie for those who demand that a film have a reasonable setting or plot. It is not a movie to see for people who require clarity of speech. If you don’t fall into any of those categories, though, there is a good chance you will enjoy this movie.

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