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Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)

First Look Studios
Blu-ray Disc Released: 11/11/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/10/2008

To say that there are very few ideas in movies today would be an understatement, and a topic which film scholars have beaten to death for years. Part of this issue may be that most cultures stick to a certain kind of film. But, when different areas of the world begin to borrow ideas from one another, sometimes things get interesting. Hollywood had been churning out Westerns for years, and in the 1960s, Italian filmmakers began to make "Spaghetti Westerns" and a new genre was born. When Asian horror became the next big thing in the late 1990s, Hollywood began to not only borrow ideas from this movement, but they seemed determined to remake every Asian film. Amazingly enough, we now get a movie which somehow combines all of these ideas. Sukiyaki Western Django is a Japanese made Western which models itself after the Spaghetti Westerns of the 60s. Can something like this possibly work?

Sukiyaki Western Django is set in (supposedly) the 1800s in a small, isolated town. Rumors of gold have brought two rival gangs to the town; The Genji, who dress in white, and The Heike, who dress in red. Genji leader Yoshitsune (Yusuke Iseya) and Heike leader Kiyomori (Koichi Sato) have lodged their gangs in buildings on opposite ends of the town's main street. The gang's fighting has driven away most of the town's residents leaving only a saloon owner (Kaori Momoi) and her daughter (Yoshino Mimura). One day, a stranger (Hideaki Ito) comes to town and displays his impressive gunfighting skills. Both clans ask that he join their groups. Instead, the man seems to want to liberate the town and he starts a war which few will survive.

(The "Django" of Sukiyaki Western Django not only refers to Spaghetti Westerns, but a particular type of film which started with the 1966 Sergio Corbucci film Django. Sukiyaki Western Django contains many allusions to that film, which involved a mysterious gunman who came to a Western town and got between two warring factions. Django carries a coffin with him and in Sukiyaki Western Django a coffin is used to transport a weapon.)

Sukiyaki Western Django comes from Japanese madman director Takashi Miike, who has directed over 70 feature films and TV movies. Not surprisingly, with all of those projects, Miike has worked in many genres, and now he's placed his sights on the Western. Not only has Miike plowed through nearly every genre, he's also known for combining them in his movies and there-in lies the problem with Sukiyaki Western Django.

I'm not sure what the average Takashi Miike fan in the year 2008 was expecting from Sukiyaki Western Django, but I seriously doubt that anyone will be satisfied with the movie. Personally, given some of Miike's other films, I had expected something pretty radical. The only surprising thing here is that 95% of the film plays like a true Western. Some of the you may think that the above synopsis is simply the jumping off point for Miike, but that pretty much describes the movie as it is. We get all of the standard Western stereotypes -- the gunman with no name, the barmaid, the cowardly sheriff -- and the film's story follows a pretty standard path.

The 5% of the film which doesn't play like a standard Western is interesting, but also feels very out-of-place here. There are some interesting cinematic acrobatics here (the best coming in the unique way in which the camera decides to follow the Gunman when he leaps from a window) which are catchy, but don't necessarily make the film any better. Also, Miike is known for his unflinching portrayals of sex and violence, and while Sukiyaki Western Django never goes over the top, there are plenty of bloody shootings and two attempted rapes. The look of the gangs suggests that the film isn't taking place in the past, but we never learn this for sure.

One's enjoyment of Sukiyaki Western Django will most likely depend on what one wants to take from the film. Fans of Westerns, especially Spaghetti Westerns, who are looking for something a little different which still pays homage to the genre may find something to like here. But, the movie's oddities may turn them off. Those looking for another Miike freak-fest will be disappointed, as most of the film is played fairly straight-forward. (Note that I said, "most".) Yes, Quentin Tarantino appears in the film, but only in two scenes, both of which feel like they were added at the last minute. It should also be noted that despite the fact that this is a Japanese film, the actors all speak English (obviously doing it phonetically), and the dialogue is difficult to understand at times. (Thank God for subtitles!) Sukiyaki Western Django is by no means a bad film, it's just an experimental mixed bag which will only entertain a very narrow audience.

Sukiyaki Western Django rides onto Blu-ray Disc courtesy of First Look Studios. The film is letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The transfer reveals a very sharp and clear image. The picture is free from intrusive grain and I spotted no overt defects from the source material. The most striking thing about the image are the colors. The reds of The Heike are gorgeous and really make the image "pop". For stylistic reasons, the movie takes on a washed-out look at times, the colors stay strong. The image is never too dark or too bright and the landscape shots have a very nice amount of depth, as do the long shots down the main street of town. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue (although not always intelligible) and sound effects. This is one of the best TrueHD tracks that I've heard, as it contains very strong subwoofer and surround effects -- much more so than some tracks from big companies like Warner and Paramount. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good speaker separation. With the surround sound, there were moments where I thought that a horse had entered the room behind me. The gunfights fill the speakers with gunshots and ricochets, placing the viewer in the action and the bass response with the explosions is fine. A very transfer overall.

The Sukiyaki Western Django Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. The Disc offers six DELETED SCENES which run about 14 minutes. These are mainly incidental, dialogue scenes which offer more character moments, but no new action scenes. The last one shows a fight scene from two angles. "The Making of Sukiyaki Western Django" (53 minutes) is an in-depth featurette exploring the film's production. This slick production, which feels like something which was made for television, is in Japanese with English subtitles. The piece is made up almost entirely of on-set footage, and a narrator explains what we are seeing. There are comments from Miike and the cast, discussing the making of the film and the characters. It explores the stunts, horsework, and speaking in English.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long