Monday Movie Musings: Bunraku (2010)

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Bunraku is one of those movies that, while it doesn't achieve all its goals, it still manages to stick with you. It's an odd movie with an interesting premise and visual flair. The aesthetic is like a papercraft city, made up of stark, contrasting colors, where guns have been destroyed and a warlord rules the city, complete with nine assassins.

Enter the Drifter (Josh Hartnett), a cowboy without a gun, and Yoshi (Gackt), a samurai without a sword, who both come to this city. While both have independent goals, it soon becomes clear that they are both after the same man, Nicola the Woodcutter, and they must work together to beat him.

This movie is complete and utter insanity. It's a blend of anime with live action, taking visual cues from Tarsem's films as well as the meta nature from films like Zombieland and Stranger than Fiction. Each time we're introduced to another of the assassins, a string of silhouetted portraits pop up and the relevant assassin's portrait is flipped over. This is not a movie that takes itself seriously, despite the somber performances most of the actors put in. While there's an excellent aesthetic to the film, the myriad of fight scenes are, for the most part, lackluster and boring.

While listening to the director's commentary, Guy Moshe (the aforementioned director) states that he hates films that don't show anything, so everything he shot is fully in frame, allowing you to see exactly what's happening. Unfortunately, he almost completely wrecks this with quick cuts and odd reaction shots. One extreme version of this is when Yoshi is in a bar fight (or at least the start of one) and runs up a wall for . . . some reason. The camera watches him, zooming in a bit too much, then shows the Bartender (Woody Harrelson) reacting with astonishment. During the DC again, Moshe mentions that Gackt actually ran up the wall and it was pretty impressive, but it's all lost in the editing.

By far, my favorite character in this movie is Josh Hartnett's Drifter. He oozes neo-noir cool in almost every scene he's in, even though he uses a false cigarette and sniffs lit cigars to give him a boost of energy. The only exception I can think of is the trapeze fight. Yes, there's a circus fight with a trapeze in this. I wish I was joking. Anyway, the Drifter's main attribute is that his punch is strong enough that it knocks 95% of the people out immediately. His notable scenes include a prison break sequence that is framed as a single shot, though there's an obvious edit in the middle of it, and a fight scene where he faces his evil counterpart and they match each other blow for blow.

Gackt's Yoshi, however, really fails when it comes to his fight scenes. It's more a symptom of the way this movie has been shot, but almost every strike has a pause after it while the characters react. Don't get me wrong, there are fight scenes involving multiple people fighting at the same time, but for some reason they really drag out and have no real impact.

The style, however, is what will leave you talking about this movie. As I previously mentioned, it's almost like it's built out of papercraft with clear contrasting colors that really pop. This also extends to the characters, sets, even the non-fight scenes. For instance, the casino is shaped like a revolver and the entrance is an elevator that rotates into place like a bullet was just fired. Other times, there are striking uses of light and silhouettes, or, at one point, one character is waiting to be challenged and is sitting in a chair, tapping his cane to a beat that serves as the tension building music for the heroes journey to him.

From an art direction standpoint, it's a marvelous movie..

I don't think this movie was ever meant to blow up in the mainstream. The director/writer often describe it as a musical where people break out into fighting rather than dancing. It doesn't help that it essentially killed many careers in the aftermath of its release. However, it is a glorious (and possibly unholy) union of Sin City, Afro Samurai, and Tarsem's the Fall while calling to mind spaghetti westerns and neo-noir.

It really must be seen to be believed.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.