class=”alignleft size-thumbnail wp-image-44938″ title=”bunraku” src=”https://www.heyuguys.com/images/2010/09/bunraku-220×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”220″ height=”150″ />Bunraku is a wildly stylized stew that incorporates so many disparate elements (Russian futurism, martial arts, graphic novels, German Expressionism, video games, the Western (U.S. and spaghetti), Japanese puppetry, samurai films, fairy tales, and more) that it is impossible to definitively categorise.
It isn’t easy to say exactly what it is, but one can say that Bunraku is a unique and entertaining but ultimately tiresome ride, stuffed to the gills as it is with tongue in cheek violence and a dizzying barrage of the director’s influences.
In a dystopian city of the future where guns are outlawed, a Man With No Name type stranger (Josh Hartnett) walks into a seedy bar, initially seeking whiskey and a card game, but with a far more serious mission in mind. He is soon followed by samurai Yoshi (J-Pop star GACKT), on a quest of his own, and we soon learn that the reason for their presence in town has to do with Nicola ‘The Woodcutter’ (Ron Perlman), the most powerful man east of the Atlantic. Nicola retains his power through an army of killers led by Killer #2 (Kevin McKidd), a vicious dancing dandy who is a fearsome, merciless swordsman. Yoshi and The Drifter are drawn together, along with The Bartender (Woody Harrelson), on a quest to get through Nicola’s army and exact their revenge.
Unfortunately, the sheer volume of things that director Guy Moshe saturates the screen and viewers’ brains with is Bunraku’s downfall; it feels like he is trying to squeeze everything he possibly can into the film in case it his only chance to do so. The plot itself is a simple tale about sons seeking revenge for their fathers, and Moshe uses the straightforward story as a backdrop to dress up in the most outlandish, over ripe manner imaginable.
The performances are largely in the realm of camp, in keeping with the outlandish nature of the rest of the film, with lots of hard boiled side of mouth dialogue from Hartnett, samurai stoicism from GACKT, and cod philosophising from Harrelson and the narrator, voiced by Mike Patton (former singer of Faith No More).
There is lots on display to enjoy, but in the end it’s all just too much, and it feels like a dog’s breakfast by about the half way point (during the second last fight sequence, I was chagrined to realise that it was only the second last one, and that there was still a long climactic scrap to come).
Perhaps the film will be better served on video, where fanboys can view and re-view sequences at their leisure, or watch the film in more digestible chunks, and it would help if the film was shortened by 15 minutes or so, particularly the fight sequences.
There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and Bunraku could be a lot of fun if it was reined in and allowed to breathe a bit.