I always try to see something different, and then, I ran into a different type of film in the Multiplex. “Bunraku” is quite an odd title. The title is derived from the 400 year old Japanese puppet theater that utilizes a style of storytelling with 4 ft. puppets with highly detailed faces and heads. The puppeteers wear a black hoods and robes to blend in the background. They use wires and rope to make the puppets moves. Anyway, the film “Bunraku” is directed by Guy Moshe based on a story by Boaz Davidson. It is a creation where fantasy themes run heavily with strong references to Samurai film and Western movies plus it is a boatload of tributes and comes close to being ‘tribute porn’. (I used this term the first time in my Sucker Punch movie review)
After the aftermath of several wars which brought strife and disorder throughout this alternate world, firearms have become banned but human nature still calls for war. After one of the struggles for power, Nikola the woodcutter (Ron Perlman, HellBoy 2) emerged as the most powerful man in the Atlantic. He rules with an iron fist with his cadre of top assassins, with his best being # 2 (Kevin McKidd, Rome), a smooth talking, creepy brightly-clad killer with impeccable skills with a blade. Nikola also has a love, Alexandra (Demi Moore), a woman with a strange past and the citizens cling to the hope that a hero would come to end his rule. One night, two men, one a drifter (Played by Josh Hartnett) and another is a Japanese man, Yoshi (played by Gackt, Moon Child) arrive with goals of their own but their destinies seemed intertwined. Now, guided by a bartender (Woody Harrelson) and aided by a young Japanese woman, Momoko (Emily Kaiho), the two must join together to end the reign of Nikola and his band of killers….
The plot of “Bunraku” is pretty simple, and Moshe follow-up to his first film “Holly” appears to have been inspired by “Red Sun” (The Toshiro Mifune and Charles Bronson film) and takes heavily from samurai and western movies; (this makes sense since westerns have taken inspiration from samurai films and vice versa). Themes of revenge, honor, freedom and how men thrive on chaos and strife are alive throughout the film. The film carries a commentary as how it is easier to destroy than to create, and how things are products of man’s own doing. Visual Style is what makes the film come alive, and this style is derived from other things such as gangster movies, westerns with the use of cars and modern tech, Mexican stand offs, Japanese anime (Devils of Kimon), pop-up books and even video games and Broadway. Moshe knew how to make things work, you can say that it is “Sin City” wrapped around Hitchcock’s “Rope” , while some scenes would be more Michel Gondry- like and most of the scenes are shot behind a green screen.
The action sequences have strong influences of martial arts, we see our two heroes face off against warriors of different styles and they use their differences in fighting skills to counter each one of them. The Drifter is more of a brawler, with a strong right hand while the Japanese samurai is more reliant on finesse and synchronized movements. There were several scenes that stood out, as they took on styles of Brazilian Capoeira, acrobatics, Chinese sword fighting, and even styles that reflect their own. The direction kept the film with its display of action and violence, and the style complements those scenes; further made cool with the addition of blood and brutality on several scenes. In this world where time period seems to have no hold, the director has open reign over its narrative. “Banraku” is a film that relies on its hybrid sensibilities, and so folks who liked “The Warrior’s Way” and “Sukiyaki Western Django” would be right at home.
Gackt and Hartnett do quite well with their roles, but admittedly, Yoshi appears to be the better written of the two. Hartnett’s nameless character appears to be a tribute to the “Man with No Name” western films (which was derived from the classic “Jidai Geki” Kurosawa movies “Yojimbo” and “Sanjuro”), but it seems like the depths of his characterization was a bit shallow until you see the reasons for his actions in the final act. The direction planned it this way obviously, but I thought more of the supporting characters leaned towards Yoshi who even had an amazing sushi chef as a surprise. Ron Perlman always does well with roles such as Nikola, and his portrayal is filled with mood and fear for a possible violent prophetic end. Kevin McKidd is effective as the creepy, brightly-clad killer. His is a character that has a hidden agenda, and yet, he may be satisfied with being in the background. The rhythmic dialogue, and odd posturing makes him a much more effective secondary character. Demi Moore is a tad underwritten in the script but I have to say it had its purpose. Woody Harrelson plays a sort of an adviser to our two lead protagonists; and you guessed it, he provides some subtle injections of humor.
Admittedly, “Bunraku” will not be a film for everyone. It is a feature that relies on style and many would see the film as superficial. However, the film has several key scenes that just made it stand out, and I was truly entertained with what I have seen. It had enough action to keep it aloft, and while the plot was simply predictable, I have to admit it was just so cool to see two heroes plow through the killers and go against the odds. It could’ve been better on some scenes and it does go much longer than I expected, but I had fun watching this small feature film. If any of my descriptions sound interesting, by all means, give it a go; just don’t knock it for being something that you don’t like when it was obviously its intention, a practice of ‘tribute porn’.
Recommended! [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]
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