Starring: Hideaki Ito, Yusuke Iseya, Kaori Momoi, Quentin Taratino
Directed by: Takashi Miike
Running Time: 121 minutes
I'm not really obligated to tell any of you this, but I actually bought this movie way before Django Unchained was released. It was a curious convention purchase. I eventually watched it this year with my mother too, since she was interested in what Japan's take was on the classic spaghetti western.
In a remote western town there is a hidden treasure buried somewhere. Two rivaling clans, the Genji and Heike, both come to this town in search of the treasure. When a skilled unnamed gunman visits the town, both leaders of the clan notice his skills and try to bribe him to their side and perhaps help them find the hidden treasure.
First of all, my reasons for blindly purchasing this movie was because 1) Takashi Miike directed it and I love him, 2) the story sounded interesting, and 3) Quentin Tarantino was part of the project. I believe Takashi and Tarantino have worked together before, so it seemed like an interesting mash up since they have somewhat different directing styles. To my surprise were some familiar and slightly less familiar faces that showed up in this movie. Although it was a small part, Shun Oguri played the father of little Heihachi in the movie. Masanobu Andou, who most know from Battle Royale, was mostly unrecognizable with his less than flattering make-up job as one of the right hand men of the Heike clan. There's some mistakes I've noticed on the internet, especially Tumblr, where he is tagged at the Genji clan's leader, but it is actually played by Yusuke Iseya, another face I didn't recognize so easily. I reviewed Casshern shortly and he was the star of that. Mom and I quickly became a fan of his. So what to say about the movie?
Unlike Django Unchained, this is a slower paced film and the time is more obvious to viewers. There is a lot of downtime for dialogue and spurts of violent action here in there. Occasionally, my focus would wane a little as it is a little confusing, but somehow you can piece everything together. The characters are interesting and the main cast have some intriguing layers to them that keep you invested to the end. There is a little more to the story than two clans warring with each other. Intertwining this rivalry is little Heihachi's story of his family and how things have fallen apart. This subplot opens up more character develop for audiences so they can be a little more invested in each of them whether positive or negative. Not that it really matters, but hands down my favorite characters were Ruriko and Yoshitsune (and not because of his good looks either).
The biggest praise I have to give this movie is the directing and visuals. I sat through the behind the scenes part of the DVD and saw all the trouble the cast and crew faced with weather conditions, strict special effects, and the challenge of learning every line in English. Yes, this movie is completely, originally in English. Tarantino's role is to narrator the story, or just begin it, and the rest of the cast delivers their lines in English. May I point out that more than half of the cast is not fluent in English. The reason for this is stated by Takashi Miike in the behind the scenes stating that he didn't feel right filming a western movie where the characters spoke Japanese. He compared it to a period piece that's completely in English (or perhaps another language other than Japanese) and how awkward that would be. He also carefully co-crafted the script to parody famous lines in American films to make it more comical. So, be prepared to hear some negative or confused criticisms on that choice. As for the visuals, they are absolutely stunning. From the sets, action moments, and scenery, it has very bold and warm tones to it for the most part.
As for negatives aside from the slow pace of dialogue and some confusing moments, I wasn't particularly fond of the ultimate climax. It was full of emotion, violence, and visually appealing action, but the final duel should've been between a different set of characters. Although, the reveals were a nice touch and regained my interest.
So, this movie isn't going to be on my top five favorites from Takashi Miike, but it wasn't terrible or scarring. I commend him for taking risks on doing an all English movie, which is more or less successful compared to Imprint, and just doing a western this way from an iconic figure. Westerns aren't for everyone, even myself, but I found this quite enjoyable. It is a little slow, so you'll have to have some patience with it.
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