Sukiyaki Western Django: Remaking Yojimbo… Again…

When I write up movies, I tend to write up ones that you probably aren’t going to see on your own. So when I talk about them, I have a weird dilemma. I want to talk like the film nerd I am, name dropping directors and films and such like I would to other film nerds, but at the same time, I have to talk to an audience who probably does not give a fuck about Asia Extreme or German New Wave or Exploitation film. So I guess for this movie I will do a little of both. Let’s start with answering the question: What is a Spaghetti Western?

Spaghetti Westerns were Westerns made by Italian’s shot in Spain, primarily in the 1970’s. They used Italian actors to play Mexicans in the west. They also employed international actors and had them all speaking different languages to each other. The most well known of these movies were the Leone/Eastwood “Man With No Name” films… A Fistful of Dollars, A Few Dollars More and Good The Bad And The Ugly. In these films Clint Eastwood spoke English to the Italian actors speaking Italian. When the film was released in the States, Eastwood’s dialogue remained his own, but the Italian actors had their voices dubbed into English. This was reversed for the Italian releases. These films were generally low budget, but often ultra violent making them especially interesting to American audiences. These movies gained significant influence in the world of American filmmaking.

So the next thing we need to talk about is Yojimbo. Yojimbo was a samurai film made in 1961 staring Toshiro Mifune made by the legend Akira Kurosawa in 1961. It was about a samurai who comes to a small town that is stuck in a war between two rival gangs who run gambling houses. Yojimbo convinces one gang to hire him for protection and then plays the two gangs against each other, getting money on both ends. Despite my love for Kurosawa and Mifune it is not one of my top 5 favorite Samurai films… however two of it’s remakes are two of my favorite movies of all time.

The first of these was the previously mentioned A Fistful of Dollars in 1964. This put Spaghetti Westerns on the map and made both Eastwood and Sergio Leone famous. That trilogy might be my favorite of all trilogy. Sitting here thinking about that seems insane, but I cannot honestly think of a three movie series that I like better. Maybe if you count Park Chan Wook’s Vengance films as a trilogy… or discount Planet Of The Apes 2 and 5… or Nightmare On Elm St 2,4,5,6 and Freddy Vs Jason… Or started watching the Godfather series and started taking a shot every time someone got shot and by the time you got to the third film you were passed out drunk and you woke up to the credits. Or quite possibly if you consider Wayne’s World Bill And Ted 3. But I don’t think you can do any of these things, so let it be said that The Man With No Name Trilogy is my favorite Trilogy ever. Apologies to Bruce Campbell.

Let’s move on… Only 2 years later a bad ass motherfucker named Sergio Corbucci decided to remake A Fistful Of Dollars… only this time he added more blood. You know that scene in Reservoir Dogs when Mr. Blonde cuts off that cops ear? Well he stole that from Corbucci’s remake 1966 Django. Corbucci, while not as well known as Leone, is probably just as amazing, and definitely way more fucked up. I will go right ahead and say that the ending to his film The Great Silence is one of the top 5 best endings in film history. (I blogged about it here.) Anyway… Django is probably not as good as A Fistful Of Dollars, but it is certainly bad ass, and Frank Nero could probably take Eastwood in a fight… or a gun fight.

Okay so let’s see what we have here…. Japanese samurai film, turned into Italian western, turned into ultra-violent Italian western… Fast forward 40 years and meet Takeshi Miike. Miike is a revolutionary Japanese Asian Extreme director who has made at least 3 of the top 10 most fucked up films I have ever seen. He decides to turn this Japanese samurai film turned ultra-violent Spaghetti Western into… An ultra-violent Japanese Sukiyaki Western with a hint of samurai swordplay. Sukiyaki is a Japanese noodle dish which is I guess the closest thing Japan has to spaghetti. This is hilarious. The film is called Sukiyaki Western Django and is a remake of… well… Django… and A Fistful Of Dollars… and Yojimbo…

The film is extremely fast paced and out of control and makes very little sense… like pretty much every Miike film. It is completely fucking insane and is very different from the other films. The plot line is basically the same as the other films… this time the main character comes between two rival treasure seeking gangs and according to little text tags at the beginning and end of the movie it takes place a few hundred years after Yojimbo and a few decades before Django. (UPDATE: I was wrong about this.  Check the comments on the post for details.) There are clear references to Django and a sword fight scene that references Yojimbo. One of the characters is names Akira which is assumed to be a reference to Akria Kurosawa until in his second of two cameo appearances Quentin Tarantino explains that he called his son Akria because he is a big Anime nerd. The film veers off course from the original plots as well, as the hero does not really play both sides… he mostly just fights against everyone for no real apparent reason. There is also the addition of an ass kicking female character which is completely absent from all the previous films. And lastly, instead of being dubbed into English or Subtitled, all the actors speak English… completely marred by thick Japanese (and in some cases Chinese) accents. It is pretty impossible to tell what they are saying some times, especially when everyone in the theater is crying laughing. I think this just adds to the confusion and bewilderment of this hilarious action packed remake of a remake of a remake of a remake. That being said, I can do nothing but recommend this film whole heartedly when it comes out in wide release later this summer.

Lastly, I must mention that there is another A Fistful Of Dollars remake (well it is closer to Fist than it is Yojimbo) called Last Man Standing (directed by Walter Hill of The Warriors fame) which was a Bruce Willis bomb that is actually pretty fucking awesome. Excluding Deer Hunter it is probably the best Christopher Walken film that features Walken in anything much more than a cameo. Sorry this is another tangent in a way too long post, but Christopher Walken has been in some of the worst movies in history. I know everyone loves him, but look at his IMDB. Outside of True Romance, Pulp Fiction and Waynes World his film career is fucking embarrassing. What does it say when the thing you are most known for is a SNL sketch?

Okay, I have ranted too long. Just watch all the trailers… in reverse chronological order after the jump…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5JiJqc1-1g
Sukiyaki Western Django – 2007

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmlKBh4MVps
Last Man Standing – 1996

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMc0cpXwfW0
Django – 1966

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2ar1OB1LSQ
A Fistful Of Dollars – 1964

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgswymaBuDk
Yojimbo – 1961

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Comments (5)

Comments

  1. Sam
    July 12th, 2008 | 9:50 pm

    Having been seeing a number of Japanese films recently, I came to realize how vague my sense of Japanese history is, and so I went online to see what good books on the subject were out there. During the search I happened to come across the source of something from Sukiyaki Western Django which clarifies its chronology. The lines, spoken by Tarantino at the beginning and recurring throughout…

    “The sound of the Gion Sh?ja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the s?la flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind.”

    …are the famous opening lines of The Tale of the Heike (as translated by Helen McCullough), a classic anonymous literary account of a civil war between two important clans in the late 12th century. The climactic event of the Genpei War was the sea battle of Dan-no-nura (sometimes written unhyphenated). It is centuries after this that Miike situates his film, according to the opening intertitle; these are the events Tarantino describes in the prologue, the war of succession he compares to the War of the Roses. (The battle itself is portrayed in fantastically unrealistic fashion in one of the sections of Kwaidan by Kobayashi, which is playing on Sunday at Film Forum: http://www.filmforum.org/films/nakadai.html#713. It’s a great film, although I don’t recall that the other parts have anything to do with the Genpei War.) The two sides in SWD are modern descendants of the two clans, with the same names: Taira/Heike and Minamoto/Genji. There’s even a scene where we see someone reading directly from the Tale of the Heike (the opening lines again), when the two sides retreat to their respective headquarters to decide on a course of action. I’m not sure if Miike is implying that the war has been ongoing for centuries, or if the old rivalry was revived.

    I bring this up mainly because you noted on your site that Sukiyaki Western Django takes place centuries after Yojimbo, which is not the case. Yojimbo is intentionally set during the same period as most American Westerns (and SWD), the late 19th century. Kurosawa’s film is about the unrefined world of gangsters, drifters, and rural peasants, while Miike arbitrarily grafts onto this framework the tale of a legendary battle for the rule of Japan.

    – Sam

  2. vadim
    July 13th, 2008 | 9:44 am

    Are you fucking kidding about Walken? Yes he’s been in bad movies but he has an amazing track record. His Imdb attests to that, check out the majority of the little known films he did in the 80’s, they’re by and large excellent.

  3. November 30th, 2009 | 8:59 pm

    Can I just say how much I love being a film nerd? I love obscure funny shit. If you get a chance, check out The American Astronaut (killer soundtrack by The Billy Nayor Show and a quote-worthy script about a space pirate), Six-String Samurai (won a slam dance award, majority of soundtrack is done by The Red Elvises), and The Bird People of China (another really good Miike film).

  4. December 1st, 2009 | 12:32 am

    I havent seen American Astronaut, but it looked pretty bad. I did see Six String Samurai and The Bird People.
    I thought Six String was pretty unwatchable. It was like a failed attempt at making a Bruce Campbell flick.

  5. Skerries
    November 20th, 2010 | 6:38 am

    other less none “remakes” of Yojimbo are Omega Doom http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0117238/ and The Warrior and the Sorceress http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088379/

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