It’s only fair, as the Italian Western ripped off Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars that the genre should migrate back east once more. The sukiyaki in the title refers to the dish of thinly sliced beef which is simmered at the table in a shallow pot in a mixture of vegetables, soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Often, the ingredients are dipped in raw, beaten eggs before being cooked. Western audiences probably know the word more from Kyu Sakamoto’s song “Ue o Muite Arukō,” which was retitled “Sukiyaki” for Western audiences, selling 13 million records worldwide. His follow-up, “China Nights (Shina no Yoru),” made it to #58 in the U.S. and was the last Japanese artist to chart here until Pink Lady’s 1979 song “Kiss In the Dark.” A Taste of Honey’s 1981 cover charted even higher, reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and it’s been covered by everyone from Selena to The Ventures.
In the same way, this movie was renamed Sukiyaki Western Django for America.
I tell you all this because the word is a nonsense mishmash word to our gaijin ears and that may be the way this movie appears to many eyes, as the films of Takeshi Miike are often inscrutable. His fans — of which I count myself — like it that way.
Beyond Yojimbo and Django, this movie is inspired by the historical rivalry between the Genji and Heike clans, which ushered in the era of the samurai. Much like an Italian Western, a nameless gunman has come to town to help a prostitute get revenge on the warring gangs.
What can you say about a movie that has Quentin Tarantino as an ancient man in a wheelchair with Stuntman Mike’s duck on it and who refers to himself as an anime otaku? Or a movie that seems to exist in multiple timeframes, embracing both the samurai and the cowboy while a nearly all Japanese cast speaks mostly English? Where women become Kali, the goddess of death, in the midst of gunfights, so fearsome that they become actual anime? Or the fact that we finally get to see what was inside that coffin that Django was always dragging around?
Even Tarantino’s opening speech can be traced back to the epic The Tale of Heike: “The sound of the Gion Shouja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sala 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.”
And you have to be a real Corbucci otaku to make the cross that kills the final bad guy read Mercedes Zaro.
The cast boasts stars like Yûsuke Iseya (13 Assassins, Casshern) as the main villain Minamoto no Yoshitsune, Kaori Momoi (Memoirs of a Geisha) as the vengeance-seeking Ruriko and Hideaki Itō (Umizaru) as the gunman. Masanobu Ando (Battle Royale), Shun Oguri (who played Lupin in 2014’s Lupin the Third), Takaaki Ishibashi (Hiroshi Tanaka from Major League 2!), Renji Ishibashi (who was Zatoichi and Lone Wolf and Cub films, as well as Tetsuo: The Iron Man) and Yōji Tanaka (one of the Crazy 88’s in Kill Bill).
Three years later, Tarantino would make his own take on the Italian Western. This makes the perfect double feature to play along with it.
You can buy this on blu ray from MVD. The new collector’s edition has an extended cut of the film and a gorgeous looking 1080p transfer of the film