Sukiyaki Western Django Review

The Film

Takashi Miike's homage to the virtues of jidai-geki and spaghetti westerns is a visually arresting and poetic piece. He conjures with symbols and colours, and the director acknowledges both the great Yojimbo and Leone's remake, A Fistful of Dollars. The film also bears the title of Sergio Corbucci's best known film but the movie itself is a summation of the cinematic exchange from East to West from the eye of one of the most intriguing film-makers working today.

I want to shake off all of you who come to this film expecting a product inspired by QT because of his cameo in the film. Tarantino has found inspiration in Miike before, he stole the speech from Rainy Dog for Kill Bill that B speaks to Viveca Fox's daughter, but I think the comparison between the two does the more famous man no favours. This is because QT's work is currently drowning in homage and self-reference, whilst Miike transcends the ideas he uses and moves beyond his sources to his own unique artistic viewpoint.
Like many of Miike's films, Django is not quite what you expect it to be. It rebels against predictability, subverts cliché and defies expectation. It embraces individual rebellion and bucks any trend that comes its way. It retains a sense of the theatrical and the surreal from recent works like Big Bang Love and Demon Pond, and it re-invents the outsider figure of Mifune/Eastwood as even more iconic and left field. This is best summed up in the lead's wonderful line when he responds to an apathetic well wisher's thoughts that "shit happens" with "I don't want to learn from shit any more".

Miike refuses to give in to normalcy or received morality. In following his inspirations thematically, at least in the Yojimbo plot of the stranger setting two gangs to war, he owns his influences but he also chooses to refuse their original message and ploughs his own, often unintelligible, furrow. You may watch this film despairing at the poor English of the cast, the confusing story or the logical incoherence, but if that is the case then you have learnt that this director ain't for you and that he doesn't intend to win you over by using familiar stories and ideas as you would expect. He wants to be difficult and hard to understand, and he does not want to simply re-tread someone else's path.
Django defies description despite it's obvious genre roots. You'll love the film if you enjoy the director's rebellious spirit or admire his visual poetry. This is a film that can be dismissed as a reworking of its influences, but to do so would be to miss a knowing screenplay and visual flare which point out that the influences of this story reach back far before cinema. If you want to dismiss this as a Kurosawa or Leone love letter, then you may be better off looking for inspiration from the Bard himself. In typical fashion, this director celebrates the classics of cinema and theatre and then turns them to his own ends. Henry V, Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, the Dollars trilogy and even Romeo and Juliet, all get used in a flurry of colour, parody and earnest individualism.

For some, such a mixed identity would be a sign of a crisis in the same. Is it a chanbara, a western, a play, or even ballet? Like the turncoat sheriff, does it become impossible for this film to have so many identities and remain uncompromisingly individual? For Miike though, this is no issue as it is diversity that he loves and he spans the Americas, the East and finally Europe, and he discovers the missing link between Corbucci, Shakespeare and Kurosawa. Django is one film inspired by many others from many places, but ultimately it is as determinedly individual as it could be. In short, I loved it.

Transfer and Sound

This release follows an earlier Japanese blu-ray disc which contained the longer cut of the film, by over 20 minutes, and Japanese and English TrueHD 6.1 tracks. This version is encoded in VC-1 and contains an English TrueHD 5.1 track, and a normal stereo track, with the option of Spanish and English subs if you find the dialogue a little impenetrable. The sound down mixed on my set-up to a 5.1 track which had plenty to recommend it in terms of atmospherics and clarity of reproduction, and possesses a strong sub-woofer channel so that sequences such as the dance routine, accompanied by drums, come alive.
In terms of the transfer, I have little to find fault with as the image is well handled in the high contrast flashbacks and the normal highly colourful gang sequences. The cinematography is in the traditional western style of an arid aesthetic and I suppose that does mute the look of the film a little which might be why I can't praise it more. Detail is good and edges seem to have been left alone, and I would call this well above average.

Discs and Special Features

The deleted scene reel runs for over 14 minutes and these scenes are presented in a full screen envelope with time codes and greatly diminished video quality. There is definitely more cut from the film with the shorter cut included here, but to be honest I liked the film more in this shorter cut and don't miss the longer running time.

The disc also includes a Japanese making of documentary which runs at around 52 minutes and is a mixture of arch reverence and the kind of narration that belongs in a corporate promotional film. The many references to "Team Miike" and the bizarre levels of respect given to a particularly rebellious director do jar a bit as we watch filming of key sequences and listen to cast and crew. The director is quite amusing when he admits that he has "mellowed recently" but that many of the crew may not survive filming!

There is a BD-Live link which did not work on my player and trailers for 4 other First Look releases. This is a single layer Region A encoded disc with the transfer taking 19.1GB of space. This edition also comes with a digital copy disc.


The very expensive Japanese blu-ray contains more language options and the longer cut but I did feel that this shorter cut works better than the full two hour version. This release is an above average transfer with solid sound options and isn't it marvellous that we get such work available on this format.

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