Review in a Hurry: The Spaghetti Western, Japanese-style, Sukiyaki is a remarkably inventive yet referential Eastern Western, full of action, cinematic references, pop-cowboy lingo, bloody haute costuming, two warring clans and one carnage-inducing Gatling gun.
The Bigger Picture: Japan's samurai cinema served as inspiration for the original Spaghetti Westerns: The Sergio Leone classic A Fistful of Dollars is but Kurosawa's Yojimbo remade shot by shot. The whole thing is brought home by Sukiyaki, from the warring clans to the last man standing.
Dynamite Japanese auteur Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer) manages a remarkable homage to Spaghetti Westerns, while vigorously reinventing the long-lost genre. Miike meshes elements of Sergio Carbucci's Django (1966)—even riffing on the original score—with a sexy, stylized visual sensibility which draws equally from classic big-screen renditions of the wild American West and "Jidai-geki" (Japanese period dramas). Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish; perhaps this is the first soba cowboy flick.
A sure-shot, silent-type gunslinger (Hideaki Ito) breezes into a gold-hungry town in "Nevada" (actually, Japan's Tsukiyama mountains). There he finds the beautiful widow Shizuka (Yoshino Kimura) and her son, caught between warring clans who've consumed the town in their mutual lust for wealth and contempt for each other.
The "Wandering Gunman" (Ito) slings both his gun and saber—between red clan leader, the beastly heathen Kiyomori (Koichi Sato), and white clan leader, the devilishly handsome warrior Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya). The dialogue, full of hyperbolic, Western clichés, is delivered entirely in English, though the cast is entirely Asian (with the exception of an opening-sequence cameo from Quentin Tarantino). Weirdly, nothing about this hybrid feels inauthentic.
The 180—a Second Opinion: Don't expect martial arts in bloody Nevada. With an appropriately faux Old West vibe, the gunfights (and bow guns and samurai swords) are dealt masterfully by these Japanese hands. Stylish and stylized, Sukiyaki holds fast the conventions of the genre, from the dearth of locations to the one-shot takes and suitable hammy acting of the supporting characters.