Sukiyaki Western Django (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks out two great tastes that taste great together - Miike and Django.
The Genji and Heiki clans bring their century’s long feud to a small Nevada town in search of the hidden treasure rumoured to be hidden there. Following years more of bloody fighting the game is changed when a solitary gunslinger with no name comes into town looking for work. After witnessing his near supernatural skill with a gun, both clans begin to fight for his allegiance. But the stranger has plans and allegiances all his own.
Sukiyaki Western Django is a potent and expectedly wacky mix of two of my favourite things—Spaghetti Westerns and Takashi Miike. Miike filters the familiar tropes of the already post-modern genre through his super-saturated and ultra-violent pop lenses, and vomits forth a bastard step child that only the most glit-edged cult movie fan could love. The film is colourful beyond all reason, witty despite its inflated sense of broad comedy, and most importantly, an entertaining take on a tired formula.
Miike has slowly grown from a capable technician into a truly incendiary modern filmmaker, and has often proven a more acute authority of his craft than most of his form over function contemporaries, who tend to lose control of coherency while embracing their flash. In my review of the director’s second attempt at children’s entertainment, The Great Yokai War, I praised Miike for his intuitive streak, and once again he manages to create indelible and creative images on a small budget and quick turnaround. Sukiyaki Western Django isn’t a defining film for the director, and some of his most exciting work here is reminiscent of Wisit Sasanatieng’s Thai ‘western’ Tears of the Black Tiger (which doesn’t share Miike’s sense of pacing), but it may be Miike’s most accessible movie yet. Though the R-rating is justified and well earned, and the tonal shifts may be considered too sudden for mainstream audiences, Miike tones down his signature vicious streak in favour of more exciting action, and slightly lighter sense of humour.
Despite the title, and early word, Sukiyaki Western Django isn’t a remake of Sergio Corbucci’s seminal and often mimicked Spaghetti Western classic Django. There are a few clever visual cues that point towards the original Django (a coffin carrying a giant gun, some headstone names), but mostly this is yet another remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was most notably recreated by Spaghetti Western godfather Sergio Leone as Fistful of Dollars. Accounting for Yojimbo and Fistful’s statements on American Western, and their post-modern nature, Sukiyaki Western Django is actually some kind of third generation comment on popular Westerns (a post-post-post modern film?). To this end the film is chock-full of in-jokes and references, not only referring to Corbucci, Leone, and Kurosawa, but to just about every other home town influence on Miike’s craft. The Kurosawa homage runs the deepest, including a gang leader obsessed with Shakespeare, and a character named Akira.
Like Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies, Miike’s film will likely divide viewers between those of us susceptible and accepting of a feature that runs on referential imagery rather than traditional narrative, and those of us bored by statements on films we’ve never heard of. Tarantino’s films are ultimately stronger because of a more natural appropriation of story, and more compelling characters, but Miike doesn’t suffer any of QT’s self-indulgence… besides the scenes where he suffers QT’s self-indulgent acting (which manages to almost kill the film at every turn). Miike isn’t able to make an ‘important’ film with the material, but I don’t think I’d consider it disposable entertainment, though I’m guessing Miike’s less supportive critics aren’t going agree with me.
Miike’s pallet is just about colourful enough to induce an epileptic seizure, and his contrast levels are enough to blind a gopher. Needless to say, the whole thing lends itself well to the abilities of Blu-ray. The director and his cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita (whose non-Miike credits include a whole bunch of Tyler Perry movies) take a page from the book of Kill Bill and change up the look repeatedly throughout the film, depending on time, place, and the script’s emotional needs. The results are a clear cut case of style over substance, but it’s hard to resist these harsh whites, deep shadows, and over-saturated colours. Picky viewers may complain about a few bleeding hues, but I’m reasonably sure this was Miike’s desired effect. I wouldn’t call this a reference disc, but you aren’t likely to find brighter or more solidly represented colours on many other live action discs.
Sometimes the transfer can become very grainy, but this is also obviously done on purpose to further the over-the-top stylization. Besides this textured grain there’s no artefacting or dirt to speak of. Details vary depending on the scene, but for the most part, present tense, outdoor sequences are quite sharp, especially the final scenes in the snow. Some earth tones exhibit very minor compression noise and some of the harder white edges are slightly blocky, but otherwise you aren’t likely to find much to complain about here.
Miike’s love of cartoons and his occasionally ‘unrefined’ sense of humour can be heard all over this 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track. Spaghetti Westerns were not known for their audio subtlety, but in impersonation Miike and his audio technicians have stepped over the line into the definitively silly. Bullets ricochet, heads move left to right with a deafening zip, falling objects whistle like Acme bombs, but possibly the coolest thing about Sukiyaki Western’s hyper-stylized soundtrack is the use of modern restructured traditional Spaghetti Western gunshot sounds. This is the first time those familiar, flat and tinny little kabooms have actually packed a wallop. The real wallop is reserved for the giant chain gun, which pumps bullets into all channels, and throbs into the LFE. The most common surround effect, however, is that of the omnipresent dusty wind.
Kôji Endô’s score is a predictable but pleasant mix of traditional Ennio Morricone music, traditional Samurai music, with a slightly modern flare, including electric guitars and hip-hop drums. The Japanese version of the original Italian character theme is especially amusing. The score comes to life most effectively during the exotic dance scene, which is supported by a super bassy didgeridoo. Concerning the dialogue track, the back of the box isn’t lying when it refers to the language spoken as English. As part of this whole weird experiment Miike opted to record the Japanese actors speaking phonetic English. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue is so butchered that the English subtitle track is a requirement.
Our rather slim extras begin with a fifty-two minute long making-of featurette, made up of oodles of behind the scenes footage and interviews with the key players, all narrated in Japanese. The featurette’s pacing is lethargic, and the presentation pretty dry, but there are some moments of fun, including the actors waxing a little too philosophically about their rather threadbare characters, Miike displaying a strictly hands on approach, and the actors complaining about the difficulties of speaking phonetic English. Next up are a series of deleted scenes (not in hi-def), all of which would’ve slowed the film’s breakneck pace, and a collection of trailers. The collection’s second disc only contains a digital copy of the disc. First Look gets an extra point for sending a deck of movie themed playing cards with the disc, though I’m not sure they’ll be made for sale with any releases of the disc.
Takashi Miike will always be an acquired taste, no matter how hard he tries to be mainstream, but Sukiyaki Western Django might be the crossover he was looking for. There isn’t a lot of meaning beneath the surface, but the film’s energy is infectious, and its colourful photography is sweeter than most eye-candy. If the concept of a Miike directed Fistful of Dollars remake sounds appealing you probably won’t be disappointed with the final product, though you probably shouldn’t be expecting much else. I believe that this is the first ever Takashi Miike feature-length film ( Imprint is a short) to find its way onto a high definition disc. The extras are pretty weak, but this Blu-ray disc’s hi-def video is the ideal way to see the super-stylized film, outside of a theatre, of course.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 11th November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Surround 2.0 English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, Making-Of Featurette, Trailers, BD Live, Digital Download
Easter Egg: No
Director: Takashi Miike
Cast: Kaori Momoi, Koichi Sato, Quentin Tarantino, Takaaki Ishibashi, Teruyuki Kagawa
Genre: Action, Comedy and Western
Length: 98 minutes
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