I gotta hand it to director Guy Moshe because homeboy ‘went for it’. You get an opportunity to make a movie and you can play it safe, try to stick to convention and hope that this convention that you are sticking too turns out to be okay, or you can risk it all. Go all in. Push your chips into the middle of the table, put everything you got into it, add in a little bit more you didn’t have, and let the chips fall where they may. That’s what my man Guy Moshe did, and that’s outstanding. Not his movie ‘Bunraku’ which is a holy, colorful, jumbled, incoherent, inspirational mess, but the heart behind it. We need more risk takers like my main man Guy Moshe.
It’s the future… I think… and as our narrator (Mike Patton) will inform us, it’s a future in which all guns have been outlawed because man is violent and stuff and man needs to be stopped from shooting each other. These future people do remember that we killed each other rather well in the absence of guns, right? Apparently not.
This little town is run by an evil ogre of a man named Nicola (Ron Perlman) who is oppressing the natives something fierce. Every once in a while some rebels will rise up, but that usually means they have to face one of Nocola’s nine trusted assassins, and more times than not, that means the dancing, sword wielding sicko killer known as Number 2 (Kevin McKidd), and that usually ends up real bad for those involved.
What this town needs is a hero, and as luck would have it, two have just rode into town. Hero Number One is known only as The Drifter (Josh Hartnett), a classic brawler saddled with a very poor disposition about him, and in possession of lightning quick hands that have the ability to kill you with one punch. Hero Number Two is Yoshi (Gackt Camui), a classically trained Samurai, polite, honorable and just as lethal as The Drifter, and he also wears more eyeliner than should be legally allowed by any man ever. For real.
Eventually our two heroes meet at the establishment of The Bartender (Woody Harrelson), they don’t like each other much, they fight, they beat the hell out of each other which I think qualifies as a ‘love scene’ in this movie, and a newfound respect is earned. That is as long as they both stay out of each other’s way. We know that’s not gonna happen because we know full well that they have the same goal.
As you might imagine, eventually our heroes are going to have to join forces. We mentioned nine killers, ten if you include Nicola, and before you can get to Nicola these other killers will have to be dealt with, ‘Game of Death’ style. We even have a completely adorable damsel in distress to rescue in Yoshi’s cousin Momoko (Emily Kahio) to insure that every conceivable cliché base is covered. Will Yoshi and The Drifter be able to defeat Number 2 and Nicola? Being as how Nicola has to be the most long winded villain in the history of modern cinema, we sure hope so. Good Lord! Either kill them already or shut the F@#K up.
As ‘Bunraku’ begins, with the puppets popping up all over the place, and Mike Patton’s somewhat pretentious narration laid over these puppets, narration that is largely spoken in riddles, I’m thinking ‘what exactly have I gotten myself into?’. Then we’re introduced to Kevin McKidd’s character, who was great in this by the way, and his pirouetting, red suited swordsman, followed by Josh Hartnett’s drifter sporting the ugliest moustache I’ve ever seen… clearly Josh Hartnett is not a facial hair guy… not to mention Gackt and his eyeliner issues… I knew we were in for something a little different. It’s at this time I released any preconceived notions I might have had about this movie, or any movie for that matter, and just rolled with whatever was to come. This approach almost made ‘Bunruku’ a pleasure to sit through. Almost.
Part kung fu movie, part Western, part revenge flick, part Shakespearean tragedy, with a touch of Hindu ashram despair, there’s no way that a movie with all of that, one also filled with puppets, animation, popup books, and musical cues stolen from that 1960’s Batman TV show could possibly work. And it doesn’t… not really… but as it went on it did begin to grow on me. Even though the visuals in this movie are colorful and unique, the story supporting these visuals, for lack of a better word, is tired. The narrative is as standard and as cliché as any Western or Kung Fu movie you’ve ever seen. Revenge for fallen masters, damsels in distress, love loss, a ladder of killers to climb and the long winded, talking killer… it’s all there. But this is a good thing when you think about it. Since we’re already overloaded with the cutting edge, avant-garde visuals, heaven forbid we actually have an equally cutting edge story weighing us down. Keep it simple, keep it standard, and keep it easy. We can appreciate that.
In fact, if Guy Moshe could’ve found a way to compress his overly long movie, I’m pretty sure I would’ve liked it even more. I know the well choreographed fight sequences are this movies trump card, but if the editor could’ve trimmed some of those extra long sequences somewhat, I don’t think much would’ve been lost in the translation. And while we fully recognize the greatness of Ron Perlman here at the FCU… if someone… like a director… could’ve reeled in Nicola’s tendency to soliloquy just a little bit… Again, I get what he’s saying, and would’ve still understood it if he used fewer words.
A little something different while being exactly the same as everything else. And it’s that little bit of difference and the creativity involved which is why we recommend ‘Bunraku’, warts and all, as almost required viewing.