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Midnight Madness: SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO


"This is sukiyaki, not a dang lollipop!" - Quentin Tarantino in SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO

I hate Takashi Miike. Hate, hate, hate. I've walked out of more of his films than I've stayed in. And yet, every time Colin Geddes programs one of his films for Midnight Madness, my ears perk up - each successive one sounds even more fun than the one before.

This time, it's SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (capitalized to grab your attention, like most of the movie) - and for the first time, I don't hate Takeshi Miike.

Miike's long association with Midnight Madness packed the house at the Ryerson tonight; tickets for DJANGO sold better than the Argento or Romero offerings and were the fastest sellout for MM this year. Actors from the film were in attendance, and Miike, who was unable to hop over to Toronto for the screening, taped a welcome for the crowd and wished everyone well. He even gave us his e-mail address so we could comment on the film (miike@olm.co.jp).

SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO repatriates the storyline from Kurosawa's masterpiece Yojimbo, which, after it was made in Japan in 1961, went on a kind of cinematic world tour. It became Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing before Miike got his grubby little hands on it and brought it back to its homeland, albeit carrying every single trapping of the foreign cultures it had visited.

The result is a truly gobsmacking piece of cinema. Japanese actors stroll the streets of a half-Western, half-Edo town, carrying swords and pistols (and one Gatling), and speaking in phonetic English that none of the actors themselves understand. (Even Miike, it is said, did not understand the dialogue he was directing.)

As in the original(s), a lone gunman/samurai arrives in the town, which is ruled by two warring factions. The nameless newcomer seeks to set both sides against each other in a battle royale that will purge the streets of evil. All of the classic components are in place, although Miike also adds a new character - I won't spoil the surprise, but I guarantee that this new hero will be a crowd favourite by the time the show's over.

DJANGO gets occasionally sidetracked, but on the whole is such an exuberantly weird retelling of such an amazing piece of storytelling that it's utterly absorbing from start to finish. This might seem like damning with faint praise, but this is far and away Miike's most satisfying work. A strong recommendation to catch it while you can.

DJANGO re-screens Thursday at noon, and Saturday at 9:30.


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