Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spaghetti Junction: The Chinese-Muslim-Italian Tradition

Sukiyaki Western Django(2007)Directed By Takashi Miike
Consider this from wiki: "Chinese noodles pre-date Italian pasta, and Arab traders most likely became introduced to them due to their trade routes with China. Historically, people in Italy ate pasta in the form of gnocchi-like dumplings – pasta fresca eaten as soon as it was prepared.
It has now been asserted that the Muslims who populated Southern Italy (around the 12th Century) were the first to develop the innovation of working pasta from grain into thin long forms, capable of being dried out and stored for months or years prior to consumption (see Peter Robbs Midnight in Sicily pp 94-96 for details).
Possibly, Muslim traders with links to Arab trade routes to China may have been introduced to pasta or noodles that way.
The Saracens, originally from North Africa, invaded southern Italy in the 9th century and occupied Sicily for 200 years.
Pasta is now associated with Italians as a whole.
The popularity of pasta spread to the whole of Italy after the establishment of pasta factories in the 19th century, enabling the mass production of pasta for the Italian market""Sukiyaki Western Django" is an enjoyable, post-modern riff on multi-cultural cross pollinating. That sentence almost sounds too big for this movie, but it's not.A Japanese Spaghetti western(a nickname for westerns made by Italian directors, writers, and casts, Clint Eastwood was in allot them in his heyday), influenced by "Yojimbo"(a film about a samurai playing two feuding clans against themselves) and the war of the roses (the English civil war between the Reds and the Whites, who the gangs of "Sukiyaki Western Django" appear to be coincidentally and simultaneously self-reflexively aware of, as the leader of the Reds, reads a book about the war, while the whites are oblivious to the connection.)
"Yojimbo" in turn is also based on Dashiell Hammett American mystery stories from the 30's.
The lone hero, is locked in a war between the whites and the reds, and the local villagers, specifically a mixed family, where there's a little boy has a white and red lock of hair on each side of his face, who are protected by a "half-breed" gunslinger(the kind with "no name"). The two murderous gangs are brought to and as result divide the town down the middle, in pursuit of rumored Gold (which leads to a Japanese miniaturized Gold Rush, though a rose by any other name, etc.)The dialogue is all spoken in English by Japanese actors with thick Japanese accents, just as Italian directors and actors in spaghetti western spoke English, with their Italian accents shinning brightly for English speaking audiences who were willing to playing along, because of the operatic vitality the Italians brought to the genre.
Its clever in allot of ways, but its also just a really fun action movie, deliriously hyper-stylized by Takashi Miike.
Miike is becoming more and less conventional a storyteller at the same time, balancing trusted action and adventure with densely multi-layered homage and enfant terrible gonzo aesthetics.
Tarantino is in it, and though his role (and thankfully screen time) is minor, it also adds to web of associations and borrowed ideas.
The epilogue claims that after this adventure the hero went to Italy, where he was known as Django and presumably inspired: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Django_(film). So that this movie is in a way, it's own grandpa; an imitation which claims to be the precursor to it's original ancestor. Coincidentally or cosmically aligned the same day I saw this I found this in the 1 dollar bin at my then local video store "Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee": http://www.spaghetti-western.net/index.php/Django_Shoots_First_Review. And the cultural carousel just keeps spinning.
Anyway this movie is just one more reason I keep coming back to the daring and bizarre films of Takashi Miike.
Always remember, to believe in yourself, and keep your Gatling Gun in it's coffin, til you need it.

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