Notable Cast: Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Kevin McKidd, Gackt, Demi Moore
Review: Bunraku: cool-sounding Japanese phrase or title with actual meaning?
Bunraku- A traditional Japanese puppet theater featuring large puppets operated by onstage puppeteers with a narrative recited from offstage. The puppets have heads, hands, and feet of wood attached to a bodiless cloth costume.
Well knowing that ahead of time would have made everything a hell of a lot easier to comprehend during this hyper stylistic western/samurai/gangster/pulp film noir/video game infusion. Bunraku is bursting at the seams with genre inclusion, much like that one fat relative at Thanksgiving forced to de-belt and unbutton their pants just to make the whole sloppy mess fit. Trying to categorize Moshe’s long shelved beat em’ up piece will leave your head swirling, but the one constant binding all the different sub-genres is the button-mashing fight sequences. Gamers will get the reference (you vs. 100 enemies? Well, if I never stop hitting the “Attack” button, I can’t lose right?), as we watch our characters beat their way through a violent and corrupt town. A flood of flashy colors, original theater type set-pieces, an interesting cast…Bunraku begs to achieve some kind of cult status. But drawing comparisons to the Sucker Punch brand of “Ohh pretty visuals are distracting!” type of filmmaking, Bunraku may have been a tad ambitious to pull off cleanly as it suffers tragically from script writing ADD.
In a time where guns have been outlawed, crime lords rule the streets with an iron fist. The weak are taken advantage of while the seediest characters rise to the top. In this particular case, local boss “Nicola” (Perlman) owns a small generic town with his gang called the Killers. Each given a number, each Killer acts as a smaller boss for their own sub-gang, doing Nicola’s dirty work. Killer No. 2 (McKidd) is feared by all, playing second fiddle to Nicola. But just when there appears to be no adequate challenger to Nicola’s rule, two mysterious figures pop up in the town. One, a cowboy looking hombre known only as The Drifter (Hartnett), starts asking for Nicola with intentions unbeknownst to all. The other, a samuri-esque villager named Yoshi (Gackt), arrives in town looking for an old family heirloom that Nicola just so happens to possess. At first the two immediately clash, but a very clever bartender (Harrelson) sees a chance for the duo to clean the streets a bit. Our bartender tries relentlessly to prove both men can achieve what they are seeking through cooperation, but the stubborn heroes care only for themselves. The bartender makes it his job to link the two before they get themselves killed, and subsequently end Nicola’s reign. Yes, many henchmen were injured in the filming of this movie thanks to a vagabond, warrior, and a server.
“Watch as the wild Hartnett circles his prey, waiting for the right moment to strike…which is probably right now while he’s upside down…”
I totally dig the video game generation style of thinking a la Crank and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World if done right. Be it balls to the wall fast paced (almost side-scrolling) super fun action or off-beat nerdish references via sight or sound, these films speak to the adrenaline hungry gamer inside. Bunraku is riddled with such influence be it the top-down “Spy Hunter” type car chases and two against “too many” battle scenes where surely only a hero controlled by the so-called hand of god (the player) could manipulate their moves to victory. Even the Killer battles were set up like mini boss battles, prompting their introduction card upon appearance. This was the fun aspect of Bunraku: provide a high-flying acrobatic action experience the viewers can get lost in, again like a good video game does.
But here comes the failure. If you’re going to trash reality and go over the top, you better damn well be over the f#cking top bat-sh*t Jason Statham dispatching assassins whilst in the act of road fellatio crazy. Bunraku played it too safe, skimping on mindless violence for minimal insanity. I mean, Moshe even had the R rating to play with yet most fights ended with the henchmen slinking away after they got kicked once or twice. Rehearsed choreography helped Hartnett and Gackt flow smoothly through each fight with the grace of a ballerina, but the henchmen aptly responded with the toughness of a ballerina as well. The tone was set like an old hokey Western, one step away from cartoon birds flying around the heads of dazed fighters.
McKidd was my favorite player, rocking the gentlemanly assassin scary good. A blast to watch, McKidd’s cocky demeanor and robust physicality made him a force to be reckoned with. Even the Scotsman’s accent was powerful, making each line as intriguing as the next. Aside from that, nothing impressed from two pretty boy lone wolves, a rambling bartender, and an old washed-up villain. Harrelson had his funny moments, but mostly was just there to inject wisdom in the form of stolen stories (apparently he created Spiderman?). Likewise, Hartnett just felt like a face. Rawr, I’m all dark and mysterious! Uh huh, never saw that before. Don’t get too excited about the cast either, just more for show.
In the end, Bunraku‘s promise is all bark no bite. All the style in the world couldn’t save itself from its own safety. We don’t watch movies like Bunraku for story and drama. If we get such as well, whoopdee-doo, but we flick out of the box films on for ballsy originality. Bunraku only possessed this at face value, which was nowhere near enough. Paper shadow-puppet theater and a self-aware narrator will only be intriguing so long Moshe. Note: this is coming from one of the biggest B-Grade action enthusiasts around, so I desperately wanted to love Bunraku. I really did! Eh, can’t fault a man to trying?
Final Rating: A deceivingly bland 5.5 out of 10
I am jealous of that baller suit though…lovin’ the red…