Writer/director Takashi Miike rose to international fame around the turn of the century with a string of audacious cult classic films including Audition, Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, and the Dead or Alive series. While he has continued working nonstop since then, his more recent work doesn’t seem to make its way to the West, or at least cause as much impact, as reliably as it did back then. Thankfully, we can cross one release off the 21st century catalog list now with the U.S. Blu-ray arrival of this film from 2007. It ticks all the boxes for Miike weirdness, and goes even further with an extended cameo appearance by Quentin Tarantino.
The story recounts a battle between two warring clans as they race to be the first to secure a legendary treasure hidden in a desolate small town. Their skirmish is interrupted by the arrival of a lone gunman who offers his amazing sharpshooting services to whichever clan will grant him a larger share of the treasure. With the three factions established, double crosses and ulterior motives soon come into play as the townsfolk do their best to stay out of the way. Tarantino opens the film hamming it up in character as another gunslinger, setting the stage with some narration about the story to come, then also appears later in heavy makeup as a wheelchair-bound old timer. It’s not hard to imagine that he was so inspired by his brief fun acting time on this Django film that it influenced his decision to make his own Django Unchained a few years later.
Miike has never been a conventional creator, and he seems to gleefully discard conventions here. Although it’s a Western, it’s populated entirely by Japanese actors except for Tarantino, with everyone speaking English for no discernible reason. It’s clear that some of the actors are reciting their lines phonetically with not much understanding of their meaning, but that’s all part of the fun. The costumes are an odd mix of cowboy basics with some samurai accessories as well as matching red and white colors for the opposing clans, a level of coordination nobody would ever encounter in the real Old West. One gets the impression that the script might have been cranked out as the film progressed or partly ad libbed, such as during Tarantino’s second cameo as a decrepit old man where he remarks about a character named Akira: "every time I hear that name it touches my heart. What can I say, I've always been an anime otaku" in a purported era that had neither anime or anime fans. You never know quite what to expect, which of course makes the whole film all the more interesting.
Miike formatted the film in suitably epic 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and it looks great on Blu-ray with a color palette that somehow manages to look both washed out and oversaturated, somewhat similar to his work on The Happiness of the Katakuris. The audio is presented in 5.1 surround, providing decent audio immersion in the frequent action scenes.
The Blu-ray has a generous assortment of bonus features, most notably an ultra-extended cut of the film that adds an hour of footage not present in the version available on streaming platforms. The other major bonus is a nearly hour-long featurette on the making of the film, great content for viewers looking for more insight into the production. Bonuses are rounded out with a brief collection of deleted scenes, a sizzle reel, a few promotional clips, and U.S. and Japanese trailers.