A while ago, my friend Ray brought over a DVD of a movie entitles “Sukiyaki Western Django.” I had never heard of it, and Ray seemed oddly hesitant about sharing it. It was plain that he wanted to do so, not only in that he wished to watch it himself, but I think, wisely, he did not wish to watch it alone.
This was very wise of him.
Sukiyaki Western Django, you see, is not a good movie. Moreover, it’s the sort of movie which is so spectacularly ill-conceived that it is honestly difficult to imagine why anyone would think it could ever be a good idea. The fact that it could go all the way through the production process without anyone ever stopping said production and saying “Hold on, wait. Are we really sure this is a good idea?” is genuinely mystifying to me. Don’t get me wrong: As I’ve quite recently demonstrated,
(and indeed less-recently demonstrated
), I understand the appeal of coming up with outlandishly bad ideas for cinematic productions. The difference is, I would not then go about putting these ideas into practice. Herein lies one of various differences between myself and the creative minds behind this unimaginable train-wreck of a film.
Let’s start with the basics. The movie is set in some sort of bizarre version of mid-1800s Nevada. It’s plainly an old west town, in some sense, because of the set dressing and general atmosphere. The populace of the town, however, is less equivocal in this respect. For you see, they’re all Japanese. All of them. And not only are they all Japanese, they’re obviously native Japanese speakers. You can tell this because they speak English with extremely, and indeed sometimes incomprehensibly, thick Japanese accents. The reason for this is obscure. Are they meant to be first-generation Japanese immigrants? If so, why – when there does not appear to be a single native English speaker in town – do they not speak their native Japanese in their own company? This question is not addressed at any point during the movie.
From a production standpoint, a conceit such as this is fairly eyebrow-raising: What audience did they think they were serving by this approach? An English-speaking audience isn’t going to benefit from an entire cast of actors who not only don’t speak English very well, they seem in some cases not to be able to speak the language at all; it appears that at least a few of them are pronouncing lines which they had memorized phonetically, with no knowledge of what they were actually saying. To say that this limited the amount of pathos they could bring to the roll is an understatement. A Japanese audience, likewise, would seem to be better-served by a cast who actually speaks Japanese; even an audience who craves the authenticity involved with having cowboys speaking English is likely to balk at one which does so in such an obviously inauthentic manner.
Although to call them “cowboys” might be a little bit of a stretch: They dress in a manner which seems more closely in line with modern Japanese street gangs, while simultaneously apparently being members of mediaeval Japanese Samurai clans. This bizarre mish-mash of elements blend together remarkably poorly, even as a sort of alternate-universe type of setting.
It also bears pointing out that there is one single exception to the above casting decisions, in the person of one Mr, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino’s role is probably the single most baffling element of the entire film. Not only is he the only native english speaker in the film, this point is never brought up by any of the characters involved. He stands out like a sore thumb who is speaking perfect english in a sack full of Japanese-speaking sore thumbs. Moreover, his role makes not one lick of sense. He appears at the beginning of the film as a young man, and after a brief introductory segment, he begins to tell a story from long ago, which turns out to be the rest of the movie. Incomprehensibly, however, he also appears later on as an elderly version of the same character. Allow me to stress this point by means of the ancient art of “all caps” thus: DURING THE COURSE OF THE STORY HE IS TELLING AS A YOUNG MAN, HE APPEARS AS A VERY OLD MAN IN A BIZARRE MECHANICAL WHEELCHAIR. He concludes his appearance as an old man by remarking to the man he’s speaking to “I suppose I shall always remain an Anime Otaku.”
It was at this point that I turned to Ray and said to him “This movie is crazy.” And it was understood between he and I that I wasn’t speaking in a kindly or jolly manner. I meant it made no fucking sense. No explanation for any of the many baffling parts of this are ever offered.
And you know, if they had decided to run with this sort of “LOL, Random!” humour, it could have redeemed the movie and made it bearable. It really could have. Ray and I began to speculate: If the cowboys are all Japanese, then maybe the “Indians” could all be blonde-haired Russians, who play their ancient and traditional player pianos out in the desert. Perhaps the Mexicans could be Irishmen. If they went that way, it could have become genuinely fun and enjoyable. But no. Aside from Tarantino’s bizarre and inexplicable appearance, everyone, cowboy and Indian alike, are poorly-spoken and badly-acted Japanese people.
This movie is so spectacularly bad that it probably-unintentionally succeeds in being sort-of-kind-of good in the sense that, while I didn’t enjoy the movie itself, I enjoy COMPLAINING about it. And to that extent, it might be worthwhile to watch with a group of friends who go into the experience with the intention of mocking it during the course of the viewing.
There is certainly nothing else redeeming about this overwhelming clusterfuck of a production, which honestly places alongside Battlefield Earth in terms of ill-conceived abominations of film-making.