Quick review: Bushido and gun-slinging insanity
Bunraku brings together two of the most popular movie genres from the East and the West, it's a mix of Western and Samurai flicks, both under the umbrella of "bunraku" puppet theater.
Bunraku is a type of traditional Japanese puppet theater, characterized by the use of puppets with very detailed and intricate heads. While this latter point doesn't have a lot to do with the movie itself, the idea of puppet theater on the whole does.
This is a very visual-centric movie, it plays a lot with light, shadows and colors, backdrops change around the characters – in the style of puppet theater – so as to better reflect a transition from one situation to another or one location to another. And believe me when I say that the transitions are a pleasure to watch.
The story takes place in a sort of post-apocalyptic world, a major war ravaged the planet and the surviving remnants of civilization, instead of trying to suppress humanity's more violent tendencies with pharmaceutics like those in Equilibrium, chose instead to outlaw all firearms and leave people who want to get violent to do so with their physical prowess and sharp steel – a rather interesting premise indeed.
However, this movie isn't here to study the implications of such a world, no, Bunraku's two main protagonists are, one on a quest for revenge and the other simply on a quest for a McGuffin, both of their paths however end with the same individual – the story's villain.
The first protagonist is the quintessential Cowboy character; he's a man on a mission of revenge, a drifter without a name but with a murky back-story and very quick hands.
The second one is a Samurai, Yoshi, on a quest for his father's medallion – the aforementioned McGuffin – but the real crux of the character revolves around his personal quest to master Jin – one of the seven virtues of Bushido, the one referring to benevolence, and his relationship to his family.
So if I wasn't totally clear here, our protagonists are a cowboy without a gun and a samurai without a sword, to which all I have to say is: fucking awesome.
Of course any good character-centric story needs a mentor figure, or at least a guide through their particular situation, and that's where The Bartender comes in, played rather well by Woody Harrelson; he manages to be both sympathetic as well as tough towards the two strangers in his town, while also helping them and making sure that they help each other.
The Bartender also has his own little story which – believe it or not – is linked to the paths of the Cowboy and the Samurai by the fact that the big baddie of the story – Nicola the Woodcutter – wronged him long ago as well and took something away from him.
Ron Pearlman plays Nicola, but he doesn't have a lot to do in this movie, he's not in most of it and when he is on screen, his dialogue and delivery are rather monotonous – but I believe this is what the director wanted as this is a character with a very long and brutal history who seems a bit tired of being on top of the killing chain, in some ways.
The other character who stands out is Killer #2, you can clearly see that the actor had a ball playing this guy, and I feel that I should mention Demi Moore, not because of any extraordinary acting job in this movie, just because she's hot.
The whole movie has a bit of a philosophical stream running through it, there's a lot of talk about honor, retribution and ultimately balance, all of which is punctuated by the narration of Mike Patton – best known for being the lead singer of Faith No More, but who has also done voice work for video games such as The Darkness 1 and 2, Left 4 Dead and Bionic Commando – who imbues the film's atmosphere with a particular character, definitely not a drony narration.
I should mention that despite the narration and absolutely insane sets, there are quite a few scenes when there are breaks in the dialogue and the actors are just left to act with their expressions and body language, great stuff.
The fight choreography is above average however, I have seen better; though there is this one great scene that comes to mind – the jailbreak scene – a scene reminiscent of the corridor scene in Oldboy, when one character beats up a bunch of enemies in one continuous take – or at least I think it's continuous in Bunraku, if it isn't then the editing was seamless. Also the fights take place in all manner of settings with varied number of combatants and styles, so you'll never get bored of it that's for sure.
This is a really entertaining movie and while not everybody will get into the whole visual theme of the things, those who will won't regret it; give it a watch.