With an energetic trailer that emphasizes the weirdness of an English-language Western from cult director Takashi Miike and a title that at first seems like three unrelated words chosen only for their sound and not their meaning, Sukiyaki Western Django looks tantalizingly brilliant.
Unfortunately, the 2-hour reality of the film doesn’t live up to the 2-minute promise of the trailer.
The Extended Version
How to Parse the Title
"Django" is the title of an Italian film -- a spaghetti Western. "sukiyaki Western" is a play on "spaghetti Western." So "Sukiyaki Western Django" is roughly like saying "Spaghetti Western: The Searchers."
The trailer promises Japanese-style entertainment in a Western. Quentin Tarantino is dressed as an old cowboy, narrating the tale of a gunslinger arriving in the middle of two warring gangs. Japanese actors speak English. They twirl guns and dance in saloons. But there are also samurai swords and martial arts. The weird blend of cultures and frenetic energy of the action look irresistible.
Unfortunately, the feature-length film lacks the frenetic energy of the trailer, except for occasional bursts. Worse, it doesn’t even have the coherence of the trailer. The trailer sets up the story as a remake of Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars, but the film has so many tangents that it’s hard to hold on to that thread.
The film does deliver on one of the promises: a strange blend of Samurai, Western, and modern action films. Miike reuses every trope, shot, and cliché from all the westerns he’s ever seen (including Blazing Saddles), and spits them all back out on your TV screen, a regurgitated mess.
The Words That Are Coming Out Of My Mouth
One of the worst problems of Sukiyaki Western Django, at least in this country, is the dialogue. The dialogue is in English, but it’s spoken by Japanese actors who don’t sound like they understand their lines. It would probably be less distracting to read subtitles than to have to hear the unnatural delivery from the actors.
It doesn’t help that the plot is borrowed from dozens of sources, or that it amounts to little more than waiting to see who’s the last man standing.
A Little Fun
Even though there is a lot to criticize, Sukiyaki Western Django does have its charms. Revel in the modern horror-movie violence that Miike works into the Western genre. Delight in the absolute strangeness of Samurai swords battling Colt revolvers, or in Japanese actors remarking on the American Indian cultures that surround them out in the wilds of “Nevata.”
And although I confess I don’t understand the cult appeal of Miike, many people whose opinions I respect are big fans, so I have to allow for the possibility that in twenty years, I may be revisiting Sukiyaki Western Django and seeing the art that just looks like a mess today.
Then again, unless you’re already a Miike fan, that’s not a very strong recommendation, so perhaps you should stick to Clint Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune.
There is an hour-long documentary on the making of Sukiyaki Western Django.Many of the actors are interviewed and they praise Miike’s work while apologizing for their poor performances.
For my tastes, I’d rather have seen an extra feature that looked at Django, the Italian film that inspired this one. Perhaps an interview with Tarantino, not as an actor but as a fan of Miike, to help explain to the rest of us why he thinks Miike is brilliant.
There are also several trailers for the film. As noted above, these are fantastic. They’ll make you want to watch the movie, and they’ll also let you down.
The DVD does come in an awesome metal case, though.
Picture and Sound
Miike’s color palette ranges from merely vivid to wildly exaggerated, and the DVD captures it well. When the season changes to winter, the stark snowfall and shallow focus is gorgeous. The soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1.
How to Use This DVD
If you’re a big Miike fan, then pop it in and turn it up. Otherwise, handle with caution and bail when you lose track of the plot. The extra feature can be skipped unless you’re a super-die-hard fan.