Kaori Momoi

Sukiyaki Western Django (2007, Miike Takashi)

This film reminds me of one of Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder Pictures presentations from the nineties. Sometimes they were good films. Sometimes Tarantino was just friends with the filmmakers.

He has a small role in Sukiyaki Western Django.

It’s a joke as a concept picture–what if you made a Western, set in Nevada, starring Japanese actors speaking English, some of them knowing how to speak it, some of them doing it phonetically, but played it straight. It’s not going for a funny script, it’s going for being funny through its absurdity, which makes it incredibly pointless, but probably very popular with people who dislike quality cinema and literature or like seeming contrarian on internet message boards.

There’s nothing to recommend it. Tarantino’s cameo’s awful. He’s getting to be a worse actor as he gets older.

Kurita Toyomichi’s photography is fantastic, but there’s only so much good lighting and good composition can do with a long, boring, lame joke.

It should be okay for Japanese filmmakers to make Westerns, set in Nevada, with Japanese actors playing Americans. Americans do it all the time. Or did it all the time (or made films with Chinese actors playing Japanese people). But Sukiyaki isn’t interested in presenting a real film. It mocks the idea of itself even having any quality.

Are there worse movies than Sukiyaki?


Are there more useless movies, made with less artistic intent?

Maybe not.

But it has its fans, which means Tarantino needs to bring back Rolling Thunder.



Directed by Miike Takashi; written by Nakamura Masa and Miike; director of photography, Kurita Toyomichi; edited by Shimamura Yasushi; music by Endô Kôji; production designer, Sasaki Takashi; produced by Ôsaki Masato and Tohya Nobuyuki; released by Sony Pictures.

Starring Ito Hideaki (Gunman), Ando Masanobu (Yoichi), Satô Kôichi (Taira no Kiyomori), Momoi Kaori (Ruriko), Iseya Yûsuke (Minamoto no Yoshitsune), Ishibashi Renji (Village Mayor), Kimura Yoshino (Shizuka) and Quentin Tarantino (Piringo).

Swallowtail Butterfly (1996, Iwai Shunji)

I queued Swallowtail Butterfly on the strengths of Love Letter, Iwai’s first film. I don’t know anything about current events in Japan. The last topical news I knew from Japan was when they found that guy on the island who didn’t the war was over. I’m American… we don’t care about other countries. We’re politically imperialists, but pragmatically, we’re still isolationists. America. We don’t care.

Swallowtail Butterfly was made in 1996 and opens with a prologue about the high value of the Yen and a bunch of immigrants coming to Japan to profit off that high value. The Japanese don’t like these immigrants and I guessed it was situation similar to when people come over from Mexico. Whatever, right? There was nothing to suggest is was untrue–I hadn’t heard about it. Big deal. The last time Japan was in American news, it took a President vomiting on a Prime Minister. Like I said, we don’t care. Even if we care… eh, we really don’t care. Pragmatic isolationists.

I read about Swallowtail Butterfly–the description–when I rented the DVD from Nicheflix. Girl’s mother dies. Girl gets “adopted” by brassy hooker. Works for oddballs. Hey, there you go… My apprehension was mostly the running time–150 minutes. Love Letter was all right, but it was boring. On the border of good and bad boring, but boring. Swallowtail Butterfly is excruciatingly boring. The scenes are real short–maybe three or four minutes a piece–but Iwai’s a good director. His composition is nice and he understands how to use sound and music. He’s very American in a way. He’s like an American director who does small movies but they don’t look cheap. He was a music video director and the transition different from the American model. He doesn’t choppy shots–he uses handheld so there wouldn’t be point–but has the short scenes… kind of like the narrative music video, actually.

The film drags on and on for about forty minutes before anything interesting happens–the girl and hooker get together and have their relationship defined in the first twelve, thanks to those short scenes, so that question is already answered. Well, then at the forty minute mark, a john finds the girl and goes after the girl and gets punched out the window by their neighbor and gets run over by a street cleaner. But it works. The film never leaves its form. It manages to hold the form while doing something incredibly different.

Then there’s a mobster scene and the film loses it. Totally breaks that form it just held. But I stayed with it. Any hopes of it being rewarding where dashed but Iwai’s got good composition, likes nice colors, and so, visually, the film has pleasing effect. I got two hours extra sleep today and I figured I had the energy.

Then there was future stuff, so I paused the movie and Googled. Yeah… it’s a future movie.

From what I saw, it’s Strange Days, minus the virtual reality stuff.

A future movie is a future movie. A social, humanist piece is a social, humanist piece. The first forty-five minutes plays like a bad version of The Lower Depths. Maybe everyone else knew–had I known Japanese current events, I might know, but the film’s ten years old so… you know, maybe not–but in the context the film it blows up completely. It becomes absurd. It invalidated the work the film did; regardless of whether or not the film intended to do that work, it did and someone should have seen that work being done… It’s like making a great movie about someone going insane and then making it all about cryogenics.

I must have intuited it somehow, since I’ve been avoiding this film since November 2004.



Written and directed by Iwai Shunji; director of photography, Shinoda Noboru; music by Kobayashi Takeshi; production designer, Taneda Yohei; produced by Kawai Shinya; released by Rockwell Eyes Inc.

Starring Mikami Hiroshi (Feihong), Chara (Glico), Ito Ayumi (Ageha), Eguchi Yosuke (Ryou Ryanki), Andy Hui Chi-On (Maofuu), Watabe Atsuro (Ran), Yamaguchi Tomoko (Shenmei), Otsuka Nene (Reiko) and Momoi Kaori (Suzukino).

Kagemusha (1980, Kurosawa Akira)

When I was a kid, I was always curious about Kagemusha because of the VHS box art. It was a silhouette of the battle armor, giving it a real eerie feel about it. Like it was a sequel or remake of Night of the Demon. Later, I learned it was not a supernatural samurai movie. I started getting into Kurosawa about the same time I discovered aspect ratios and laserdiscs and I never got around to seeing much… Most Kurosawa discs were Criterion and expensive or Fox and expensive. I actually just came across my laserdisc copy of Kagemusha, still in shrink-wrap, which I got on remainder.

It’s an incredibly impersonal film. IMDb confirmed it’s based on historical events, which explains why much of it feels like a history lesson. It’s a long two hours and forty minutes too, but I don’t think anything could actually go. Actually, I think the film would probably benefit from more. There are a handful of human relationships that work in the film–most of them since there are so few–and there are a lot of moments that work. But these moments often interrupt expository scenes and lecture moments.

Kagemusha is still a good film, it’s just not very deep. It was apparent, an hour in, the film could only end one way (and it did). But this realization made the next hour and a half a little labored… Just because we know it can only end one way doesn’t mean the film should treat us like we know it. There’s also an attempt at commentary on warfare that pops up in the third act and, while it could start a different film, it certainly doesn’t rightly end this one. But, it’s still good… it’s just not exciting (it’s no Night of the Demon, for instance).



Produced and directed by Kurosawa Akira; written by Kurosawa and Ide Masato; directors of photography, Saitô Takao and Ueda Masaharu; music by Ikebe Shinichirô; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Nakadai Tatsuya (Takeda Shingen / Kagemusha), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Takeda Nobukado), Hagiwara Kenichi (Takeda Katsuyori), Nezu Jinpachi (Tsuchiya Sohachiro), Otaki Hideji (Yamagata Masakage), Ryu Daisuke (Oda Nobunaga), Yui Masayuki (Tokugawa Ieyasu) and Momoi Kaori (Otsuyanokata).

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