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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz


A Little Background     Openers     


    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment




Sukiyaki Western Django [Blu-ray]


(Takashi Miike, 2007)








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Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Sedic International, Geneon Entertainment & Sony Pictures

Blu-ray: First Look Studios



Region: A

Runtime: 98 minutes

Chapters: 12

Size: 25 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: November 11th, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1



English Dolby TrueHD; English 5.1 Dolby Digital



English SDH & Spanish (feature film). Burned-in English on Documentary



• Documentary: Making of Sukiyaki Western Django (52:40)

• 6 Deleted Scenes (14:28)

• Promotional Theatrical Previews

• Digital Copy Disc

• BD LIve



The Film:

One of the most anticipated Asian imports in recent times, Sukiyaki Western Django is about to see the light of day in the West on Blu-ray. First Look Studios, who will have released the indie thriller Transsiberian the week before, gets the honors. The Blu-ray edition of Sukiyaki Western Django will include a Digital Copy disc and BD Live capability. One thing, though: This is the shorter version that I understand from my First Look Studios rep was cut by the director for the U.S. market. The Japanese Blu-ray edition is 23 minutes longer.

The Movie : 7
For the two or three of you out there who are not up on your Japanese cult action flix, here's a brief rundown: Sukiyaki Western Django is the brainchild of Takashi Miike (Ichi the Killer, City of Lost Souls, The Bird People in China). The first things we notice about it – in rapid succession – are the highly stylized production design, especially as regards color and light; the fact that, except for the exceedingly bizarre presence of Quentin Tarantino, the cast is Japanese, all of whom are speaking English – and rather badly at that; and its resemblance to Kurasawa's Yojimbo and Sergio Corbucci's 1996 Django.

The movie begs cryptic descriptions, and I imagine just about every reviewer has tried their hand. So, in that spirit of overstatement, I think it's fair to say that Sukiyaki Western Django represents the triumph of style over substance and, even with
Yojimbo (or Django – take your pick) to hang its story on, of style over plot. The movie simply reeks camp. Hardly a moment or a line goes by that doesn't refer to some pop culture scene, line, or attitude: from Akira to Shakespeare, to Lord of the Rings to Once Upon a Time in the West to Apocalypse Now to Batman. Which isn't to say that it doesn’t have moments of sincerity, though many will find them hard to respond to in all the distractions. Sukiyaki Western Django's very self-consciousness, underscored by dialogue that reads – and sounds – like a bad translation from the original Japanese is what makes it so funny. In fact, I found it necessary to watch the movie with subtitles. It's like What's Up Tiger Lily? turned on its head and inside out. The bloody action sequences make Tarantino's Crazy 88's seem like children playing in the sandbox. It's all such a weird mix of real and comic book. I shall say no more.



Image: 7/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

One could say that color and light is what this movie is all about. If you've seen Masaki Kobayashi's Kwaidan, then you will recall Hoichi the Earless who recites the saga of the Battle of Dan-No-Ura between the Genji and the Heike. It is that battle, as depicted by Kobayashi, that Miike takes his cue from and melds its participants into the Yojimbo plot some 500 years later. In Miike's hands, the image is often drastically altered and processed (especially in flashbacks) that any attempt at guessing the original intention is pointless. Without a copy of Sony's original Japanese Blu-ray for comparison, I wouldn't begin to able to sort out whether the appearance of what looks like grain is the product of processing or of the rendering into Blu-ray – just to take one example. And that's where this review runs up against a wall, I'm afraid. I have only this copy, though I intend to correct that – so look for an update in a couple weeks.

We can make some useful observations, however: First Look opted for a single-layer presentation. I have seen unconfirmed reports that Sony's is dual layered. The bit rates for First Look tend to the high teens with forays into the low 20s, which I feel is problematic for a movie that relies on image for its effect. That said, the image is, at all times, clear and without blemishes. I'm guessing that artifacts are not present, but the movie is post-processed to such a degree that it may not matter. Much of the time the image is deliberately oversaturated with light values blown all to hell in very high contrast. Again, I'm guessing these are the filmmakers' decisions and only they would be able to tell if First Look has managed to realize the intentions properly, given the medium and the source elements.


Update: Comparison to Japanese Sony Blu-ray:
While sensible people will make their decision based on price and buy the Japanese because it is more expensive, and some will decide based on country of origin and therefore buy the First Look since everyone speaks English, there will be others who wait for reviews such as this, only to come away more confused and will simply toss a coin.

The question of length may turn out to be definitive. The Sony is 23 minutes longer, none of which felt to me as filler. There are no new subplots, simply a fleshing out of the competitors. The U.S. cut focuses more on the lone gunman, the Japanese doesn't. The beginnings and endings are the same.

The Sony bumps up the audio to 6.1 Dolby TrueHD and adds a Japanese dub, also a 6.1 Dolby TrueHD. I have to say that watching this movie with the Japanese dub results in another level of linguistic hysteria: There is no serious attempt at matching phrase lengths, so the dub looks as much like a dub as it sounds, and the very idea of non-English actors speaking Engrish and then dubbing a translation into Japanese – well, words fail me. (Thoughts of Victor/Victoria come to mind.) I will say – and this is another one of those annoying bits that don't quite fit – the dub track sounds better than any of the others, not by much, but it has more of everything we want in an audio track. In any case I didn't hear enough difference between the First Look English 5.1 and Sony 6.1 mixes to comment on.

Which brings us to the question of image. As anticipated, the bit rates on the AVC MPEG-4 Japanese edition (vs. AVC for the American) are considerably greater. On very different content I measured 16.8 vs. 33.4, 14.0/38.3, 17.9/33.2 and 18.0/35.5 on the First Look and Sony respectively. I had the impression that the image was denser but my crops of full size images do not confirm this (so they are not included as caps). I also measured the aspect ratios: the First Look came in at 2.34:1, the Sony at 2.32:1, yet the U.S. edition yielded a little more information top and bottom (though no more at the sides). This suggests that either the Sony extends things vertically or the American shortens them, but neither case is apparent while watching the film.

The most noticeable difference lies in black levels and color cast. The First Look is consistently redder and blacker. The Sony permits us to see much further into the image. Its textures have a corresponding reality, whether they be leather, canvas, felt, horsehide, skin, even wood and dirt. Tarantino's hat in the opening shot has texture, rather than merely a filled surface. Perhaps this was not the intention of the filmmaker, though it certainly made for a more agreeable watch. Here's a thought: It is entirely possible – even likely – that the First Look Blu-ray does resemble the way the film appeared in U.S. theatres and the Sony looks the way it appeared to Tokyo audiences.


Japanese Sony Blu-ray TOP vs. U.S. First Look Blu-ray BOTTOM


Japanese Sony Blu-ray TOP vs. U.S. First Look Blu-ray BOTTOM


Japanese Sony Blu-ray TOP vs. U.S. First Look Blu-ray BOTTOM


Japanese Sony Blu-ray TOP vs. U.S. First Look Blu-ray BOTTOM


Japanese Sony Blu-ray TOP vs. U.S. First Look Blu-ray BOTTOM


Japanese Sony Blu-ray TOP vs. U.S. First Look Blu-ray BOTTOM


More from the First Look Blu-ray














Audio & Music: 7/7
The Japanese Blu-ray sported a Dolby TrueHD 6.1 mix, where First Look is 5.1. The surround track is engaged with music and effects, and does a good job with both. With the volume turned up to theatrical levels, the effect is sufficiently immersive, though I can't say that I was completely taken in. This may have been largely the result of seeing this movie for the first time and being so tossed about by plot, language and image that I couldn't absorb it all.


Operations: 3
The menu, though similar to First Look's
Transsiberian, is easier to use, but it lacks creativity or understanding of the potential of the medium. That's not a bad thing, only just not much fun. Again, we are confronted with promos in SD that reappear as Extra Feature trailers and, again, they are offered without comment as to eventual availability on Blu-ay. My one big complaint is that none of the Japanese credits at the beginning or end are translated.




Extras: 6
First Look gives Sukiyaki Western Django the illusion of a red carpet treatment, but stops short of offering the Making-of documentary in HD. At least it does provide (burned in) English subtitles, as it is narrated in Japanese. While there are no HD extras as such, we should credit its having BD-Live capability. First Look has also supplied a Digital Copy disc, which I can see being of some value for many users. The six Deleted Scenes are all in non-anamorphic widescreen 480p, and not very clear at that. One of them, however, is aided by a second angle, running concurrently.



Bottom line: 6
Despite the possibility that First Look's image may be somewhat compromised as compared to the Japanese Sony, it must be observed that it comes at a much lower price. (YesAsia currently offers the Sony for $47.99, while Amazon sells the new U.S. edition for $22.95.) I would strongly urge First Look to give serious consideration to dual layer and uncompressed audio tracks for any movie longer than 90 minutes. In any case, to do whatever it takes to keep bit rates in the 30s. As mentioned earlier, I will update this review after obtaining the Japanese edition.

So: a good, but probably not definitive transfer and very good audio plus a digital copy disc at a low price. But the question of the missing 20+ minutes remains. Despite the cut and the skimpy extra features, it's hard to pass this up. Unless, of course, this movie is not your cup of sukiyaki.

Leonard Norwitz
October 31st, 2008

UPDATE: November 8th, 2008








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