Sukiyaki Western Django, Blu-ray (2007)

by | Nov 17, 2008 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Sukiyaki Western Django, Blu-ray  (2007)

Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Quentin Tarantino, Hideaki Ito, Yosuke Iseya, Kaori Momoi
Studio: First Look Studios FLP-12326
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 color, 1080p HD
Audio: English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, DD 5.1, DD 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: 2nd disc with digital copy, Making Of featurette, Deleted scenes, Sukiyaki trailers, Previews, BD Live
Length: 98 minutes
Rating: **** (extremely violent)

Takashi Miike is best known for several “cult classics” including horror features. In this crazy and completely unique film he has turned the classic Italian spaghetti Western inside out.  Perhaps the craziest thing about it is that Miike made all of the actors speak English – even those with no English fluency at all.  Then he later mixed a Japanese soundtrack for distribution in Japan. Of course Tarantino speaks good Western-style English, as does the leader of one of the two criminal gangs in the story, but the struggles of the other actors are something to hear and behold. They often have big spaces around words and phrases, as though they were learning phonetically and pieces were edited together from many, many takes. The stilted dialog of much of the film script doesn’t help.  I turned on the English SDH subtitles so I could understand what the actors were trying to say, and it was a big help.

Tarantino clearly had great fun appearing in the film as the coach of a legendary female gunfighter.  He delivers quite a speech concerning food, which ties in with the Sukiyaki of the film’s title. The story concerns two clans, red and white, who battle in a desolate mountain town over a hidden treasure of gold, and who both attempt to entice over to their particular side a super gunfighter who arrives.  Occasionally everyone stops to listen to the bell of a nearby Buddhist monastery.  One of the clan leaders fights with samurai sword and gun simultaneously, and the other leader beats up his minions who call him by his Japanese name instead of Richard – which name he’s adopted after reading Richard III by Shakespeare! The town’s sheriff makes no attempt to keep peace, but joins up with the clan he believes will be the victor in the coming battle. He also has a split personality about which side he is on, a la Golum.  There are a number of cinematic shots more striking than most American Westerns, and fights often take place in rain, snow and mud.  A quirky, very black sense of humor is also prevalent. However, Miike’s previous films are known for their off-the-wall wildness and violence, and this one is no different.  I felt the final big fight, during which one of the clan leaders has obtained a Gatling gun and is mowing down everyone left in the town, was going too far. 

The main story is filmed in a riot of colors as though selected  by a Mexican artist, and the hi-def transfer is first rate. However, for the flashbacks an extremely contrasty effect is used – an interesting alternative to sepia, B&W or fuzzing-out of the images.  But it made me want to readjust my HDTV display.  The lossless Dolby surround tracks make good use of the ricocheting bullets and explosions, as well as the almost too specific “thunk” sounds of bullets hitting flesh.  The closing scene has the gunfighter hero riding off and a title saying that that later he becomes the Django character of  the Italian spaghetti Westerns.  Even if you’re not a fan of Westerns (as I’m not) you might find this quirky effort a visual and humorous treat, if you can handle the violence.

 – John Sunier

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