New on DVD: Sukiyaki Western Django

The spaghetti western has gone East like never before. The gunslingers pack a six-shooter next to their samurai swords and dress like glam-rockers gone back to reclaim the duster.

The movie is Sukiyaki Western Django and it is a Japanese western from cult-cinema bad-boy Takashi Miike. The cast is Japanese but the dialogue is English and the actors deliver the lines phonetically. Nonetheless, their articulation of lines like “Are you gonna come at me or whistle Dixie?” are reminiscent of the popular genre of post-dubbed Asian fight films. Miike’s ever-expanding Western fan base will appreciate the language change, as it allows audiences to focus on Miike’s style rather than suffer the distraction of reading subtitles.

The Genji Whites and the Heike Reds have been enemies for centuries, so the fact they have chosen to occupy the same town in hopes of finding a hidden treasure does not bode well for the townspeople. But through the efforts of a mysterious stranger, a hard-drinking matriarch, an injury-resistant sheriff and a widow turned whore, the town may once again breathe without fear.

Miike skilfully creates moments of hilarity with the noticeable use of painted backgrounds, exaggerated injuries and the recital of Shakespeare in between strategy planning. Furthermore, the ineptitude of both gangs is underscored by the accuracy and ability of the stranger and the Bloody Benten, “nicknamed double B for short.”

Miike creates a mishmash of Sergio Leone westerns and Sergio Corbucci surreal, bloody gunfights encompassed by an Americana-kabuki-baroque style. The result is non-stop entertainment.

For a foreign DVD release, the expanse of the special features is fairly wide. The “making of” featurette is in Japanese with English subtitles. It’s nearly an hour long and guided by a narrator. It introduces most of the actors, interviewing each regarding their role, as well as gaining Miike’s opinion on particular shooting topics. Telling the story through footage mostly captured on set, it features sections on the physical and weapon stunts, delivering lines in a foreign language, weather hardships and horseback riding. Ironically, though Quentin Tarantino’s cameo would be a big draw to North American audiences, his name is only mentioned once in passing in the featurette. There are seven-minutes of deleted scenes, although several of them lack set up shots so it is difficult to place them. They also add little to the feature narrative. A selection of eight clips is included, which to some extent summarizes a large portion of the film. Finally, of the two trailers, the longer one is cut together much better than the “theatrical” one.

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