Wow. This one is really something. I’ve seen Sin City and Renaissance, both of which focus heavily on the visual style. Even with these two filmic experiences on the table, I can still say that I’ve never seen a film quite like Bunraku. What we have here is a mix of martial arts, westerns, samurai drama, graphic novels, and dystopian science fiction. Somehow when all of these genres are put in a blender, the result is Bunraku.
After a global war, humanity built itself up back from the rubble and put a ban on all firearms. Now the police are all armed with swords and criminal bosses have taken over cities. The most brutal and powerful is Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman), who has yet to be defeated by any other boss or their armies. Enter a mysterious Drifter (Josh Hartnett) and Yoshi (Gackt), a lone samurai on a quest. Both of these men have separate missions, but a common enemy: Nicola. With the wisdom of a Bartender (Woody Harrelson), these men join forces to fight through Nicola’s guards, including the skilled Killer Number Two (Kevin McKidd), to end his reign of terror.
The story here is pretty cut and dry. Nothing too deep about it and we’ve all seen it a million times before. My mind kept going back to Akira Kurosawa’s film, Yojimbo, because of the whole drifter without a name setting out to defeat an enemy controlling a fearful town. It’s pretty much the same story, just said a little differently. In this regard, the script is weak, from the rehashed story to the characters which really aren’t anything special. I will say that Killer Number Two is really awesome though.
Even though the story and the characters weren’t anything special, I was never bored with this movie. There was something so genuine about the way it was being told. You can see that the writer/director, Guy Moshe, just really loves the movies and making them as well. The effects for the backgrounds and other sets are incredible, from the almost cardboard like main street to the insanity colorful insanity of a club that seems to only play traditional Russian music. It’s times like these that I really loved to see the scenes play out and take in all the sights and sounds, the music and the color. It’s just a shame I never got too involved in the plot.
It’s really the way this movie was made that saved it for me. If it didn’t have the extra flair, it would fail to impress me. My favorite scene is a fight that starts on a rooftop and follows Josh Hartnett down the steps. The way it’s done however, is like there is no 4th wall to the building, and the camera cranes down with Hartnett’s movements. This is very reminiscent of old Nintendo side scrollers, even complete with coin sounds in the score that accompanied the scene.
I really shouldn’t have like Bunraku. The story is unoriginal, the acting is bland, and the choreography isn’t all that great. I just couldn’t help myself. I got lost in the whole atmosphere of the movie. I will say that it’s all about style over substance in Bunraku, but I really enjoyed the style. As an objective critic, I’d say that this is a messy movie that is hardly worth anyone’s time. As a subjective critic, I would urge anyone to see it and try to enjoy and appreciate the work and imagination that goes with the style. Objectively bad, subjectively great.