In the small Japanese town of Yuta, two rival gangs have formed an uneasy truce. They both are after a rumored treasure, but have been unable to find it. Into Yuta comes a lone gunman (Hideaki It0), whose impressive skills with a six shooter impress both sides. Though determined to remain neutral, he slowly finds himself drawn into their conflict and decides to defend the helpless townsfolk caught in the middle.
To say that Sukiyaki Western Django is a typical Takashi Miike film would imply that there is such a thing as “typical” film from the Japanese auteur. The only thing that typifies his film is an ever evolving and changing style and artistic vision. Whether it is the zen philosophy of Izo, the slowly mounting tension of Audition or the congenial goofiness of his children’s film The Great Yoki War, his films each inhibit their own unique universe, with Miike never seeming to repeat a major creative idea over the three dozen films to his credit.
With this film, Miike is exploring the cultural give and take of influence between Eastern and Western cinema, specifically, the samurai film and the spaghetti western genres. Similar to how the classic The Magnificent Seven (1960) was a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai filtered through western genre conventions, Sukiyaki Western Django is a 1970s style spaghetti western filtered through Japanese cinema conventions. The result is warrior philosophy and riding chaps, six-guns and samurai swords. By setting the film during Japan’s 12th century Genpei Wars, but giving his characters anachronistic six guns, Miike reveals that there is not much difference between the code of the samurai and the code by which a nameless, high plains drifter may live by.
But don’t let this academic dissection temper your enthusiasm for seeing Sukiyaki Western Django. It is anything but a dry exercise in style. Miike has infused the film with grit and life, moving things along at a brisk pace. There are nice grace notes that Miike applies throughout the film from the poetry of the multi-colored roses which grow on a certain character’s grave to the deadly goofiness of the Shakespeare-reading gang leader who identifies with Henry V and the War of the Roses. Mix in some elements of black comedy, a cameo by Quentin Tarantino and plenty of references to samurai and spaghetti westerns and you have a film that is more than the sum of its crazy quilt parts.