Directed by: Takeshi Miike
Written by: Takeshi Miike and Masa Nakamura
Anyone familiar with Takeshi Miike knows he is everything but normal. In fact, normal in his movies is grown women breastfeeding grown men, crazed women with guys in bags that they feed their vomit to, and killers with wider than normal grins (take that Joker). However, this film is a nice mixture of westerns and samurai movies with everything else thrown in for good measure. Plus, no lactating.
Sukiyaki Western Django is a western movie with all of the stereotypes and yet none of them. The film is the story of a lone gunman trying to come between two rival gangs. See, this film is so simple its crazy. This is where the strength of the film lies. Miike goes back to the archetype of both Samurai films and Westerns and does it with lots of Hollywood style.
A movie like this would only be made by Miike. He understands that normal physics and logic do not come into play in a fantasy film like this one. I totally agree with this decision. In Django, swords can deflect bullets and men can strap machine guns to their chest. What Miike does is create a film that is consciously over the top. Do not look for logic in this film.
I love the characters and the setting for this film too. What movie geek doesn’t like samurais with six shooters? I know I love the concept. Thankfully, this film is not a parody of any genre, but a nice blend and homage to all manner of western and eastern action films. Seems Miike has been reading about heroic and villainous archetypes and plays them both well in this film. The mix of western and samurai movie is prevalent in the costumes of the film. There are traditional kimonos mixed with thigh high stockings and samurais carrying hip holsters. However, this works to get the audience involved in this melding of genres. Perhaps my favorite element of the movie is the fact that the characters do not mind spouting recent popular culture and have facial piercings while still in the setting of 1800s Nevada. I love it!
This film really is a masterpiece for Takeshi Miike. I feel that this will get a measure of mainstream success for the rather controversial director. The movie is a bit odd, but once the audience gets into the ultra stylized western feel most people will really forget about the anachronisms. Another fun addition is that while the movie is for a Japanese audience, all language is done in English with no dubbing. Its as though Miike wants the Japanese audience to experience an American film the way American audiences experience subtitled anime or film. To add to the strangeness of the dialogue, Miike uses mostly Japanese actors who speak English. Most of them had to actually learn their lines phonetically. This adds a bit of interesting accents and overall grindhouse feel to the work. This is similar to the method Quentin Tarantino used in Kill Bill with Uma Thurman learning her dialogue in Japanese. Speaking of Tarantino, his dual cameo role in the film fits perfectly and the narration he delivers really gets the movie into a western feel.
Tarantino is a huge influence on this film. In fact, I see his influence throughout the movie. The dialogue has his trademark complexity. On the violence front, there is a lot of over the top violence that screams Tarantino. However, the mixture of normal violence of bullet holes and severe wounds reminds me of a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. With every normal bullet hole special effect, there is a massive gaping hole in a bullet victim. This excessive use of holes and blood is very Sam Raimi. Raimi uses the gag of looking in a bullet hole in Quick and the Dead, but Miike goes one step further. The effect either shocks, makes you laugh, or disgusts you in a very David Cronenberg way.
I detect a great amount of Noh theater in this film too, a very traditional Japanese trait. The plot is very straightforward while there is a sort of moral to all of the violence. The scope is epic, yet we feel for the characters. The opening sequence with Tarantino looks like a stage play, with a fake sunset and very flat surface. Afterwards, the setting is rather natural looking. Well it looks natural for a Nevadan town with Japanese architecture thrown in. Snow sets the tone for some scenes the way rain does in a traditional western. Plus, the snow has a surreal look to it, almost too perfect.
I cannot recommend this film enough for fans of the director, cult movie fans, fans of Akira Kurosawa, Spaghetti Western buffs, or anyone who gushes over a Sergio Leone film. If you like any of the afore mentioned film genres and directors, then watch this movie as soon as you can.
The visuals on this release are wonderful. The art deco sets are beautiful. The whole movie has a surreal feel to it. Really reminds me of the final fight at the end of Kill Bill volume 1. However, the movie looks like a classic western. Miike makes the film look both old and new. A 1.85:1 aspect ratio is used and the colors just pop off of the screen. Can’t recommend this film enough for a nice HD TV.
The audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and the action scenes sound wonderful. However, the dialogue is really low on this release. I found myself turning up the sound during dialogue and having my ears bleed during the action. This is really a problem with my system I believe, but I wanted a clear sound throughout the entire movie.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The packaging for the review copy is a steelbox with a picture of one of the female characters. However, like comics, this version comes in different versions so be on the lookout for your favorite. The special features are rather nice. The making of featurette has some good information and is really fun too. I especially liked the “Sizzle reel” feature that has various quotes from famous directors such as Quentin Tarantino (who appears in the film), Guillermo Del Toro, and Eli Roth. The Sizzle reel is a trailer, but a good introduction for someone wondering what the film is all about. Various other trailers round out the special features.
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10
The Movie 9/10
The Video 9/10
The Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 9/10