Directed by: Guy Moshe
Starring: Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore and Woody Harrelson
Running time: 124mins
“I bet that sounds a lot better in Japanese”
The story of a a young man who has spent his life searching for revenge only to find himself up against a bigger challenge than he originally bargained for.
Although I consider myself a film buff, once in a while I stumble over a more or less recent movie I’ve never heard about before. In this case, I’m talking about the severely underrated Bunraku, first premiered in 2010 and later with a limited theatrical release in 2011. After a good friend told me about it, I gave it a try without doing any further research, relying on her recommendation – hey, in the worst case it would have been two hours of wasted time.
Turns out it wasn’t.
I now count Bunraku among my ten favorite movies, and I’m gonna tell you why.
Based on a by Boaz Davidson (worked on 16 Blocks, The Black Dahlia & The Expendables) and directed by Guy Moshe, Bunraku tells a classic tale of revenge and honour, heavily relying on Samurai and Western themes while cleverly connecting those elements up to a point where they ridicule the very cliché. The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where any firearms have been banned and the sword literally rules – the most cunning warriors have gained control and mercilessly reign over the remaining citizens. Nicola, “The Woodcutter” (Ron Perlman) is the number one assassin east of the Atlantic and with his brigade of nine killers he undermines any rebellious attempts. As the uprising reaches a climax, the paths of The Drifter (Josh Hartnett), who strives to kill Nicola for unknown reasons, and Yoshi (Gackt), who seeks to retrieve an old family object of value only know to him. Reluctantly, and with a little push of The Bartender (Woody Harrelson), they agree to work together, as they find Nicola as their common enemy.
The stage, be it outside or inside various buildings, is built like the classical background on which the movie’s title is based – Bunraku is a 400-year-old form of Japanese puppet theatre, with traits of Origami. Everything is symmetric and does, as the movie progresses, fold and unfold from two-dimensional into three-dimensional pictures under neatly executed dolly shots. Additionally, the lighting heavily influences the day-and-night understanding, as it is never “bright” in the city, but merely changes from gloomy green and blue into a not even remotely less overshadowing red. The constant feeling of menace lurking behind every corner stays throughout the movie until the very end.
The ensemble, ingeniously dressed to reflect the formerly mentioned atmosphere, plays greatly together. Although mostly representing stereotypes, they do it with such finesse and ease that it is a real joy to watch them rather than tiring, as it is often the case. Gackt and Hartnett as headbutting anti-heroes with Harrelson as the surprisingly optimistic teacher with a hilarious hobby up his sleeve simply work out together – the chemistry is just right and the reluctance of trusting up to a realistic scale. Ron Perlman as the big bad boss who oversees everyone and everything that’s going on delivers his average badass performance, not outstanding, but definitely entertaining, and Demi Moore as his lover with more than one little secret portrays a broken and bitter character beneath her charade of the outwardly strong woman.
A superb and memorable role is brought to us by Kevin McKidd as Killer No.2, Nikola’s right hand and, next to being an almost unbeatable master of the cane sword, a complete sociopath. McKidd, who most of you probably know from either the series Grey’s Anatomy (as Dr. Owen Hunt) or Trainspotting (as Tommy), delivers a perfect mix of Scottish dry humor, deadliness and the distinct traces of someone who hides behind a mask on for him non-existing remorse. A snappy dresser, loyal servant to Nicola and feared by everyone but his boss – who mockingly accuses him of sneakily taking over his business – Killer No.2 remains an eminent role that could’ve easily been ruined by the wrong portrayal.
Bunraku captivates – from the dedicated opening all the way up to the splendid finale – with a mix of colour, music and light that can only be described as art. I can highly recommend this movie to everyone who doesn’t absolutely hate classic tales with classic themes.