Takashi Miike, one of Japan's most innovative and prolific film directors presents an audacious fusion of spaghetti western and jidai-geki (period film).
The plot will be familiar to anyone who has seen Kurosawa's "Yojimbo." A lone gunslinger arrives in a remote town and is caught between two rival factions, who both vie for his services. Needless to say, much violence, treachery and death ensues.
As you've probably heard, Quentin Tarantino features in a supporting role and his bizarre, incongruous performance is one of the highlights of this highly stylised, willfully cultish film.
The theme of cultural rootlessness that has appeared in so many Miike films (Ley Lines, Rainy Dog and City of Lost Souls spring to mind,) is evident here in the characters of the gunslinger and the widow's young son. Predominantly though, the emphasis is on fast-action and unabashed, escapist entertainment.
A mainly Japanese cast deliver their dialogue in English, which most of them appear to have learnt phonetically (as was the case in Miike's "Imprint" episode for the Masters of Horror series). Personally, I needed to have the optional subtitles switched on.
This is a shorter cut of the film compared to the original Japanese edit, although several reviewers have suggested that this actually has a beneficial effect. Having not seen the longer edit, I can't confirm this, but the running time feels about right for a film of this type.
Admittedly, this is not the director's best work, but it's probably one of his most accessible and polished movies to date. Hopefully, if this is a big enough hit on DVD, more of his recent work will be released here in the UK and elsewhere.