Sukiyaki Western Django (2008)

In addition to the killer three collectible steel book covers of the Sukiyaki Gang, the Lone Gunman, and Bloody Benten being dished out by First Look Studios with the release of Takashi Miike's tongue-in-cheek, hyper-real Japanese reinvention of the Spaghetti Western, the DVD and Blu-ray of Sukiyaki Western Django should come with a warning.

Similar to the old Hollywood standby of "check your brain at the door" or as Miike notes in the nearly hour long fascinating documentary included on the disc, "Don't take this too serious[ly]. It's just entertainment. Relax and enjoy it," it may be beneficial to warn owners of new televisions or those who like to tweak their color scheme settings (e.g. vivid, bright, or contrast) to be advised that there is nothing wrong with their televisions and that Miike's ultra-stylized, extremely vivid, often gaudy yet irresistibly addictive piece of eye candy will make the most of every single color pixel you have.

Aside from all the blood that spurts out of wounds like an exploding ketchup bottle and the ridiculousness of the dialogue which takes a good five or ten minutes to absorb without cracking up so much that you can barely contain yourself, Miike's expressionistic and surrealistic film is a visual feast for the senses. Likewise, it will no doubt gain an avid following among cinematographers, editors and visual effects supervisors trying to figure out how to maximize their film's post-production.

Yet--despite the stunning display of breathtaking artistry, brilliantly choreographed action sequences that were all storyboarded and acted out by Miike to get exactly the type of film he wanted (as witnessed in the behind-the-scenes foreign documentary on the DVD)-- as a film, Sukiyaki is a spicy dish that at times a bit too hard to digest.

Opening with a bizarre prologue as our storyteller Quentin Tarantino-- spouting lines in one of the most improbable accents in recent memory-- sets up the tale by providing the back-story of the 1185 Battle of Dannoura before the film's primary plot kicks off, set several hundred years following the blood-feud. With allusions to Shakespeare's Henry the VI, the English War of the Roses, and countless westerns including its main source of inspiration-- Kurosawa's brilliant Yojimbo (starring the man who was so cool that even his name could've been a catchphrase-- Mr. Toshiro Mifune) as well as its Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood remake Fistful of Dollars, we meet two feuding gangs in Nevada (or more specifically "Utah, Nevada") who both seek a legendary rumored treasure of gold.

When our "pale rider," "lone gunman," or "man with no name," played by Hideaki Ito rides into town, both sides try to lure him to join their gang by offering varying conditions and quickly, the nameless man finds himself in the middle of an epic battle between the conveniently costumed and named groups-- the red and the white. Although, predictably, he isn't the only one caught in the crossfire and more than eager to do quite a bit of shooting as we also encounter a young boy who was the product of a forbidden love between the red and white (symbolized by roses) as well as his beautiful mother and feisty grandmother.

As the battle carries on to sometimes overwhelmingly violent effect, secrets and blood begin to spill out into the open and although the main thread is easy to hold onto, Miike weaves in so much along with it that the film becomes increasingly hard to follow or take in. Although a good twenty minutes could've easily been shaved off the running time (including possibly deleting Tarantino's cheesy cameo altogether), the concept of a samurai styled western with twenty-first century technology makes it incessantly fascinating to film lovers and movie buffs will have a blast playing "spot that homage" as Sukiyaki runs the gamut from Shane to Rio Bravo to Apocalypse Now to Rambo and more.

While thankfully the DVD comes complete with English subtitles which go a long way into understanding the heavily accented dialogue spoken by its Japanese cast who seem to be speaking English phonetically (reminding me of the same clipped, detached delivery found in David Mamet's movies), ultimately the script relies much too heavily on idioms in an attempt to maximize its coolness. And while the admirable craftsmanship of "Team Miike" as they're dubbed in the DVD behind-the-scenes documentary is undeniable and it's fun to check out all of the promotional trailers, clips and deleted scenes included in the stunning theatrical transfer, there's little doubt that the film would've been much, much stronger if Miike had decided that his Spaghetti Western would've been delivered in Japanese, as we're so conscious of the clunky delivery and poor writing that it pulls us out of the reverie of his phenomenal style.

Having been included in prestigious festivals in such cities as Toronto, Seattle, Venice, San Francisco, and New York, Miike's experimental and movie-geek driven, cross-cultural, genre blending outrageously violent art film is something that has to be seen to be believed and is sure to capture the imagination at least for its running time. Needless to say that-- following the filmmaker's advice-- it's best appreciated if you don't try to over-think it too much.

Moreover, along with leaving the color controls of your television alone, you should just let the story unfold before your eyes-- all the while glad that aside from catching a cinematic "in-joke" or reference here or there-- Miike didn't include a comprehensive exam on the DVD with an essay question asking you to explain just what it is you just saw. For, in the end, it may be easier to dissect the cinematic recipe of Sukiyaki Western Django (see the Amazon carousel below for 10 ingredients) and the sum of its parts than it is to dissect the completed film itself.