Judge Joel Pearce speaks terrible Japanese.
Our review of Sukiyaki Western Django (Blu-Ray), published November 24th, 2008, is also available.
An epic tale of blood, lust, and greed.
A bizarre cultural pastiche, Sukiyaki Western Django is, I suppose, exactly what you'd expect from a Takashi Miike spaghetti western. If you don't know what I mean by that statement, this movie is not for you.
Facts of the Case
After an inexplicable introduction involving Quentin Tarantino, we open on a town run by two gangs, one dressed in white and the other in red. They are both after some treasure, and most of the townspeople have abandoned the area. A nameless gunman (Hideaki Ito, Onmiyoji) arrives, is courted by both sides of the struggle, but decides to remain outside the conflict…for now.
I suppose I should start by finding some good things to say about Sukiyaki Western Django. Without question, Miike still has a flair for bizarre visuals and extreme color design. The film looks like it's been run through several filters in photoshop, ramping up the browns and reds, and the garish colors peer out from expressionistic shadow. Each sequence looks completely different, so it's never a dull movie to look at. It's big, loud, and brash—everything that hardcore Miike fans want to see.
Unfortunately, Sukiyaki Western Django is also plagued by a number of serious problems. The biggest is its complete disregard for traditional plot and character structure. I came through this film not really knowing or caring about any of these characters, only understanding them as types that fit into the genre. This problem is compounded by the fact that the North American release has been cut down by over 20 minutes from the original Japanese version, though at this point I'm not sure whether that would make the story any more engaging.
I also think I understand what Miike was trying to do with the dialogue, but I can't say I approve. The cast is all Japanese (except for Quentin Tarantino), but the dialogue is primarily made up of Engish translations of Japanese folk legend and clichéd expressions ripped from American westerns. This bizarre mixture is spoken phonetically by the cast, making it nearly incomprehensible without the subtitles. This is an amusing idea that recalls the cultural mixing of the original spaghetti westerns, but the experience of watching the film is mostly just frustrating.
As can be expected from a Takashi Miike western, this film is not appropriate for children. That said, in a genre already so steeped in bloodshed, I was surprised that the violence here wasn't more over-the-top. Miike seemed to want to soak this film in violence and sex, but the violence has little impact after westerns like The Wild Bunch, and often feels downright tame compared to the film's overall visual style. The sexual scenes of the film are either unpleasant (there are several rape sequences) or tame, suggesting that Miike is either losing his touch with the extreme, or is trying (unsuccessfully) to appeal to a wider international audience.
The transfer is acceptable, though it is a bit of a disappointment at times. The video transfer has successfully captured the vivid color of the film, though it gets a little garish at times. I don't know whether the original print looked like this, but at times it looks like someone got a bit zealous with the contrast levels of the digital transfer. A lot of the details get blown out because of it. The sound is more successful, though it's a pain to try to figure out what everyone is saying. The subtitles help, but since they are designed for the deaf, we get a lot of unnecessary information.
While the colorful insanity of Sukiyaki Western Django will appeal to a limited group of people, most will find it obnoxious, bewildering, loud, and confusing. I can't tell you whether or not the additional 20 minutes would improve the plot issues, but nothing could solve the other issues, especially the language snafu. If you've never heard of Takashi Miike before, go check out some of his earlier work instead, then decide whether it's worth taking the risk on this one. In terms of special features, we get a few deleted scenes (though nowhere close to the remainder of the clips from the international version), as well as one of those crazy Japanese production featurettes. It's almost an hour long, so at least it's substantial.
Miike is guilty of making a bad western, and First Look is guilty of slicing it up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Look Pictures
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