MVD Marquee Collection: Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) - Reviewed

I love Takashi Miike!  I love spaghetti westerns!  I love the jidaigeki film!  When word started percolating the cult Japanese filmmaker would be unifying the disparate genres together into his sprawling epic Sukiyaki Western Django, I was elated.  Featuring a strong ensemble cast of characters including a bit part by none other than Quentin Tarantino, on paper this sounded like an inspired tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek ultraviolent hit.  Mixing in everything from Sergio Corbucci’s own Django to Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name Trilogy and even Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, Miike’s film was shaping up to be an instant modern classic with a unique spin on the spaghetti western tropes. 

Then, as with the director’s infamously banned short segment Imprint from the Masters of Horror television series, all the actors start speaking in broken English with thick, heavy accents with spoken dialogue that doesn’t match the emotion of the performance.  Though some have read it as a loose play on the nature of Italian overdubbing prevalent on spaghetti westerns, in practice Miike all but breaks the legs of the film before they try to stand upright.  Save for a few inspired moments, clever send-ups of the genre expectations and the director’s own trademark brand of sadistic violence, somewhere along the way something happened that’s never happened to me before watching a Takashi Miike film: I lost interest.

Every dollar is on the screen in Sukiyaki Western Django with beautiful 2.35:1 cinematography by Toyomichi Kurita and longtime Miike composer Koji Endo’s distinctly spaghetti western score replete with whistling is a glorious listen.  The screenplay itself co-written by Miike is as dense and convoluted as anything to come out of the spaghetti western genre or the yakuza genre for that matter.  Outside of familiar iconography including the thick overcoat of Django, action sequences that feel like a dress rehearsal for 13 Assassins and the western/mountainous setting, Sukiyaki Western Django simply fails to take off and kept proceeding onward until it ended.

While viewing the film hasn’t diminished my admiration for Miike’s still involving and ever evolving filmography, this is unquestionably the director’s worst film.  Even after trimming twenty minutes off of the film for international consumption (I myself watched the full Japanese cut included on the disc), Sukiyaki Western Django is dead on arrival.  What could have and (considering the talent involved) should have been great tragically is an ambitious misfire.  Miike would move on from this mess and continue producing offbeat and difficult-to-categorize genre pictures but for many Miike disciples Sukiyaki Western Django is unfortunately the point where many understandably jumped ship.  Unquestionably the low point of the great director’s career.

--Andrew Kotwicki