Takashi Miike's utterly deranged homage to westerns all'italia relocates a hybrid of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and DJANGO (1966 ) to a 19th-century Japan where saloons stand next to Buddhist temples, outlaws dress like harajuku kids, feathers explode from gunshot wounds and dialogue is delivered in phonetic English so weirdly cadenced that self-conciously cliched lines like "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" approach surreal poetry.
A nameless gunslinger (Hideaki Ito) rides into a dusty flyspeck of a town called Yuta, Nebada, where warring clans in search of hidden treasure are terrorizing the few residents who haven't yet fled. The red-clad Heike are led by the none-too-bright Shimori (Koichi Sato), who has a hair-trigger temper and renames himself Henry because he's been reading Shakespeare's Henry VI and considers it auspicious that the red side won the War of the Roses. The Genji gang, who wear white, answer to psychotic pretty boy Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya), who's given to lunatic philosophical rants and sadistic swordplay. The man with no name figures he can wait them both out and walk away with the loot, but gets caught up in saloon girl Shizuka's (Yoshino Kimura) quest for vengeance against Shimori, who murdered her husband, Akira (Shun Oguri), just for the fun of it. His involvement nearly gets him killed, but Shizuka's hard-drinking mother-in-law, Ruriko (Kaori Momoi), has a secret past that comes into play when it looks as though all hope is lost.
This kind of self-referential lunacy isn't for all tastes, and Miike's peculiar sense of humor veers from lewd sight gags to goofy bits like the scene in which the man with no name escape from Yoshitsune with a little help from his train horse. The ideal viewer is a Miike fan who loves spaghetti westerns, extreme stylization, interpretive dance (accompanied by a didgeridoo and drums), samurai epics, pulp surrealism, Quentin Tarantino (who appears briefly as Ringo, another recurring Italian Western character), brutal violence and teasing out obscure exploitation allusions. You know who you are. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh