A hanging scene in the Takashi Miike pic “Sukiyaki Western Django,” which unspools at PIFF in the Midnight Passion section,  has stirred up a storm of protest from Shintoists, according to Japanese press reports.

The problem scene occurs early in the pic, when a town mayor (Renji Ishibashi) is hanged from a huge torii mon (Shinto shrine gate) by an invading gang. When it was shown on TV ads and in theaters prior to “Sukiyaki’s” late July release, protests erupted from Shintoists, including the Assn. of Shinto Shrines — the head org for the 80,000 Shinto shrines in Japan, who claimed that the scene was a violation of a sacred symbol.

In response, distrib Sony Pictures Entertainment quietly removed all references to the offending scene from the trailer, as well as posters and fliers. The reason behind the changes only came to light with a report in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper on Saturday, however.

Speaking to the Asahi, a rep from the Shrine org said, “Freedom of expression is important, but it’s also necessary to consider how people affected (by the scene) feel about it.”

Sony reps reportedly apologized to the org and subsequently removed the offending scenes from all PR material, though it remains in the pic.  “When people interested in the film see it in its entirety, they will realize that it does not insult Shintoism,” a Sony PR rep said.