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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 14.29%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad85.71%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 1 rating

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by Jay Seaver

"Bunraku, n., Why filmmakers should master the basics before getting clever."
2 stars

Bunraku is a form of Japanese puppetry that first appeared in the 17th century, and the opening scene has some nifty puppet work that becomes some nifty animation. The thing is, that opening also has an overabundance of narration and a tendency to wander around and away from the point. It makes for a frustrating combination of visual ambition and storytelling that is often a mess.

It's sort of a post-apocalyptic future, with guns outlawed but edged weapons apparently being okay. Thus, the man with the most power in this frontier town "east of the Atlantic" is Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman), who runs his frontier town with an iron fist and the assistance of nine numbered killers, with Killer 2 (Kevin McKidd) the most senior. Two wanderers are coming to town on the same train - one out of western movie (Josh Hartnett), the other (Gackt Camui) a samurai without a sword. Yoshi is coming to to retrieve a dragon medallion, while the other drifter is initially just looking for a card game, with a bartender (Woody Harrelson) giving them the lay of the land.

The basic underpinnings of Bunraku aren't complicated, for all the busy activity that writer/director Guy Moshe throws on screen: It's a wandering-warrior movie, the sort of thing you get when you remove the outer layer from western, samurai, post-apocalyptic sci-fi, kung fu, etc. Indeed, the opening narration makes it pretty explicit that the whole point of this flick is that those are all different ways to tell the same story. Why, then, does Moshe so often screw basic storytelling up so badly? We'll hear the voice of narrator Mike Patton go on and on about details that don't matter or pontificate on the universal nature of the story, but things like giving the audience some hint at why the characters do what they do are pushed back far too long and given too little weight when they are revealed. The flow of the movie is terribly choppy - even at nearly a full two hours, this sometimes feels like producers tried to gut every moment that wasn't an action scene or otherwise expensive - and often feels like Moshe wasn't up to the task he set himself. As an example, I half-suspect that he wanted all the characters to be complete nameless icons, but couldn't write all the dialog that way, so Yoshi winds up with a name but The Drifter doesn't, even though their roles are basically equivalent.

A little more precision would have been much appreciated in tying this movie together, because individual bits of Moshe's genre mashing are pretty sweet. The entrance to a casino named "The Russian Roulette" deserves to be stolen for a better movie, and while the the quality of execution varies widely between the puppetry, origami-inspired CGI, video game angles, animation, and other techniques used to give scenes and montages their various looks, the visuals are positive on the balance, and very positive in some cases. The jazzy score by Terence Blanchard gives the action scenes a special bounce.

Moshe has the right idea when it comes to action, giving the characters distinctive fighting styles that match their personalities: The Drifter is a brawler, with the big roundhouse right the first thing he goes to, while Yoshi is a sword-fighter even when he doesn't have a blade - even with his bare hands, he parries and slices. They match up against Nicola's and Killer Number 2's strengths nicely, and the other eight killers at least make it interesting. As good as some of the staging is, Moshe and company still have a fair amount to learn; wide shots point up actors' being doubled as much as characters' fighting prowess, and he's way too cut-happy at times. What is the point of inserting close-ups of Woody Harrelson's crippled, not-fighting Bartender into the middle of a melee when the audience just wants to see whether punches are connecting or not?

Similarly, the acting is a very mixed bag. Josh Hartnett and Gackt are appealing heroes, although the buddy spark between them never fully materializes. Shun Sugata and Emily Kaiho are fairly enjoyable as Yoshi's uncle and cousin, certainly enough to be hostages worth caring about. Much of the rest of the cast, though, seem as stiff and artificial as the scenery; maybe Perlman, Harrelson, and McKidd just aren't comfortable in this digital-backlot environment. Demi Moore at least tries, but she's barely got a character to play.

On balance, "Bunraku" is not very good, and compounds the problem by spending so much time reminding the audience of how clever it aims to be. Moshe's ambition is laudable, but the execution would be so much better if he just stepped back and let the talented people involved do their thing, rather than trying to be a visionary.

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originally posted: 10/06/11 01:03:57
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User Comments

7/21/12 Sean Harrison not the best movie I've ever seen, but infectious as hell. 4 stars
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  DVD: 01-Nov-2011


  DVD: 01-Nov-2011

[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Guy Moshe

Written by
  Guy Moshe

  Josh Hartnett
  Woody Harrelson
  Ron Perlman
  Kevin McKidd
  Demi Moore

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