Friday, July 04, 2008

Fantasia 2008, Day One: Sukiyaki Western Django

Got into Montreal at about three yesterday, then took about an hour to get to the apartment because neither the ATM nor the metro ticket machine at the Berri-UQAM station wanted to recognize my debit card. That got resolved quickly enough, though, and I had no trouble getting my media credentials after unpacking.

(Probably noteworthy only to me, because I don't do the film critic thing for a living: I've gotten more from them each year. When I first came in '05, it was ten free tickets; '06 got me a media pass; '07 got me a pass and a program; this year there's a totebag and a lanyard added to the package. Yes, I'm easily impressed)

As I write this, I'm not sure where I'll wind up posting it; I had little luck with the Wi-fi at the Subway where I got supper last night. Of course, maybe if I'd brought my laptop rather than my phone, that would have been different.

Today's plan: La Antena, A Love, Genius Party, [rec], and maybe the "Celluloid Experiments 2008" program if I'm not totally wiped out by features come midnight.

Sukiyaki Western Django

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 3 July 2008 at Concordia Theatre Hall (Fantasia Festival Opening Night)

As much as I love Takashi Miike for being an outrageous filmmaker who does unpredictable things, I sometimes wonder if that can be a double-edged sword. Sukiyaki Western Django is unabashedly a gimmick movie; if you've heard about it at all it's probably for all the crazy things that Miike and company do. The thing you might not expect is that there's a darn near great spaghetti western not far underneath the craziness. Yes, it's easy to love this movie as camp, and I wouldn't trade any of the insanity away, but it's easy to overlook the fact that this movie would be pretty cool without the swordplay, schizophrenic sheriff, or that weird baby-in-a-flower image.

Gimmick number one is Quentin Tarantino, who appears in the movie's opener as a gunslinger who tells the tale to a group that passes by while he's preparing his sukiyaki. There was a town, Donourra (located either in Japan or Nevada) that was besieged by two rival gangs, the red-clad Heike and white-wearing Ganji, just like in England's War of the Roses. Both had heard there was treasure to be found, but their fighting has emptied the town out of almost all its original inhabitants. They stayed locked in this stalemate until a lone, nameless gunslinger (Hidesaki Ito) came to town, offering his considerable services to whoever paid the best. Cowardly Heike leader Kiyomori (Koichi Sato) and charismatic Ganji boss Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya) both make offers, warning him not to "play Yojimbo". Local barkeep Ruriko (Kaori Momoi) seems to be hoping for just that, though - Kiyomori killed her son Akira (Shun Oguri) and Yoshitsune is keeping Akira's beautiful widow Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura) as his woman, and their son hasn't spoken since.

Gimmick number two is that, though the entire cast other than Tarantino is Japanese, they're all speaking English, often not all that well. While some members of the cast seem to have a fairly decent command of the language - Iseya and Kimura could probably work in Hollywood if they wanted to - others, well, are pretty clearly reading their lines phonetically and place the emphasis in all the wrong places. Miike plays into this for camp value - it's less fluent Sato's Kiyomori that starts reciting Shakespeare and insisting on being called "Henry", for instance, and at one point even Tarantino starts imitating his visitors' cadence. The audience got a kick out of it, though I'm curious how well it plays without a large audience or whether most of the film's original Japanese audience realized there was a joke going on.

Read the rest at eFilmCritic.

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