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A lone gunman (Ito) rides into a town plagued by a gold rush and two gangs, the whites and the reds, and offers his quick draw to the highest bidder. Both sides try to win him over, not knowing he has ulterior motives.
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“You are the second cunning wolf I ever wanted to draw iron at.” Spoken by Iseya, the leader of the white clan “Genjis”, it sets the tone for the movie. Everyone draws iron, revolvers, rifles or samurai swords, at each other and the cunning double crosses and twists are more than a few. Greed is the motivation for most of the film’s characters, but most of the principals also carry an ulterior motive with them. Even some of the minor characters are not what they seem.
This is auteur Takaski Miike’s latest international release and his rebirth to the spaghetti western. Known for cult movies like, Audition (1999), Itchi the Killer (2001) and The City of Lost Souls (2000), he does not disappoint his fans or audience. His style is impeccable as always. Working with color schemes to suit the backdrop of the movie, snow falls at the right aesthetic moment, rooms are deliberately smoky when called for and the soundtrack seems to be a tribute to the great Ennio Morricone. Speaking of backdrop. The beginning sequence of the movie with Quentin Tarantino, as a philosophic gunslinger, features an actual backdrop that is so apparent that it becomes both artistic and a tribute to the old west. Following a gunfight blood literally stains the sun, and I am sold.
The film deals with both gangs trying to get their hands on the town treasure in gold, but somewhere down the line they got lost and bloodlust replaced their lust for gold. The lone gunman provokes these urges as he plays one side against the other. And a bloodbath is inevitable. Miike’s love for ultra violence is visible during all of the movie as men (and women) from both sides get shot, maimed, blown up, beaten up and one man even gets a hole blown through him. You won’t be disappointed by the final battle either where a heavy spinning Gatling machine gun falls into the hands of the leader of the reds, the Heikes.
Another common theme in a Miike movie, the family theme is presented through a little boy who, with his mother being from the white gang and his father from the red, represents the future and hope for peace.
Sukiyaki is considered a loosely remake of Sergio Corbucci’s Django (1966) and inspired by Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo the Bodyguard (1961), but it also shows traits from Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing (1996). Hill also confessed to being inspired by the two classics. However Miike’s inspiration doesn’t stop here. There are several references to the war of the roses, the English civil war between Lancaster and York, and the Shakespeare play Henry the 6th, which retells the tale. The leader of the reds even changes his name to Henry.
This movie has a story full of twists, strong acting, amazing cinematography and aesthetics, interesting and complex characters, some comical elements, enough blood to make Leone or Tarantino envy and even an intriguing recipe for sukiyaki. Anything below 4 out of 5 would be an insult in my book. Why not a 5 then? Miike chooses to have his actor talk in English, a decision that fails to convince me of its merit. My recommendation is still that you should see it though. And see the American release, with about 30 minutes less than the original; it is a far better paced movie.