Monday, 23 January 2012

Bunraku



So I like the more random movies, as mentioned with my brief review of The Warrior's Way and Bunraku did not disappoint with the randomness. For me it was like Quentin Tarantino tried to direct a kids' movie inspired by the tv series Batman (the Adam West one), Japan and Steampunk and set it in a world made from Origami. The reason I say kids' movie is not because it was any such thing but simply because it had action and violence but it was not as extreme as Kill Bill or Clockwork Orange. Throw in some video game homaging, West Side Story with punks and a combination of Western and Oriental starring a cowboy without a gun and a samurai without a sword and you have Bunraku in a nutshell.


Bunraku was made in 2010 and stars Gackt, Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Kevin McKidd, Ron Perlman and Demi Moore. Bunraku itself is a type Japanese puppet theater, which uses large, detailed puppets to tell a story. Unfortunately, this little gem lie so many other unusual artsy films flopped and pretty much went under the radar. Despite loving it I can see why, it has many flaws and it seems designed for a minor audience rather than the likes of Mission Impossible, Clash of the Titans etc, which are expensive Hollywood productions aimed at a wide audience, hoping to impress with action and special effects.


Bunraku for all the action it promises doesn't have much, as said the violence is largely toned down in comparison to say Kill Bill (and yet I've still read so many reviews complaining that it glorifies violence), to say that violent movies encourage violence is ridiculous, I love Kill Bill but it doesn't make me want to grab a sword and start a slaughter bath, it just simply looks cool and is fun to watch. Bunraku on the other hand has some good sequences but not enough for it to be properly called an action flick, the fight sequences are good but not brilliant (there have been better), and the action is largely tame.

The plot is also weak, a straightforward revenge flick featuring the typical drifter with no name (Josh Hartnett) who seems to have a grudge, the man looking to avenge his family and restore their glory, Yoshi (Gackt), who despite their differences join forces thanks to help from the bartender on the sidelines (Woody Harrelson) to bring down crime boss Nicola the Woodcutter who has the town in his power (Ron Perlman).

The film is set in a futuristic world where guns have been outlawed due to mankind's violence effectively destroying the world and causing it to be remade, but mankind's violent tendencies cannot be wiped out and instead people use swords, knives, axes and their hands to fight. Nicola is one of the men who has climbed his way up to power, he rarely shows his presence and when he do it's always with a hat in the guise of the Woodcutter. He dominates the town with his nine killers, the highest member of which is Killer No.2 (Kevin McKidd) and his minions the Red Suits. Nicola knows he is not immortal though and that he is vulnerable, never forgetting the words of an adversary, informing him that there is always someone more powerful than you. He accuses No.2 of trying to takeover, complains about having little interests save for one favourite Japanese restaurant and a weekly card game and Alexandra (Demi Moore), his courtesan who he wishes to impregnate to continue his legacy.

It was nice to see hints of the character's depth like that but alas the film never gave us enough on the characters, the females are the weakest, Alexandra seems to exist purely because the film needed a female lead. There is a hint in comic book fashion that she was once in love with the Bartender but when he picked a fight with Nicola that left him with a limp she was forced to give herself up to him to save the Bartender. Yet brief dialogue also suggests that she went willingly in an attempt to gain a better life for herself, though she acknowledges that it was a mistake as she is just a high priced whore. The other female is Yoshi's cousin Momoko, she hardly ever speaks in English and the Japanese dialogue has no subtitles so all we really get from her is that she is tough and brave but not strong, she could not save her father and ends up kidnapped by Killer No.2. There is a very brief hint of flirtation between her and the Drifter but nothing concrete.


This film is a visual treat and its strengths are in its imagery and settings. Deliberately looking like a theatre production and a mad pop-up book it combines stylish Western and Oriental imagery offering saloon doors, a Japanese garden complete with cherry blossom trees, sliding doors, a desert and more with an origami sky that makes me think of Scrapped Princess were the sky wasn't real and they were all in fact prisoners of the world.

For all its flaws it's worth a watch and I certainly enjoyed it, Kevin McKidd was fantastic and owned every scene he was in, Josh Hartnett shows improvement and though there's not much to his character he does it well, and Ron Perlman, as always, is great in his role as the villain. It's something different at any rate and could well become a cult film.

To me it was a lot like Kill Bill, Repo: The Generic Opera and Clockwork Orange, it's a revenge flick with minor boss killers to be wiped out before the main boss can be taken down, it's in a bleak future with posters of people hoping to get to power and being silenced by shady gangsters, it's violent in a world that hoped to wipe out violence and failed, and now finds itself at the mercy of a ruthless gang.

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