Friday, September 30, 2011

Bunraku Brings Beauty to Hollow Puppets


Bunraku premiered at last year’s TIFF as part of the Midnight Madness program. The film’s first screening received very positive reviews so I went in to the second screening with rather high expectations. As it was the last film I watched at the festival that year, I was ready to sit back and enjoy the ride. Unfortunately, while a visual treat, I could not fathom what caused the rave reviews that I had heard going into the film? After spending the last year touring the festival circuit, Bunraku is finally hits theatres today in limited release.

A mishmash of both the martial-arts and western genres, Bunraku focuses on a nameless man, referred to as Drifter (Josh Hartnett) who has strolled into town looking to exact revenge on the notorious crime lord Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman). In a world where guns have been banned, Nicola uses nine specific assassins to do his bidding. To get to Nicola, Drifter must team up with a samurai, Yoshi (Gackt), who has his own score to settle, in order to bring down Nicola’s reign. However, one assassin in particular, Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd), is determined to ensure that Drifter does not succeed.

Normally I will rally behind any action film that has a unique style, Bunraku has this in spades. You could take several frames from the film and easily convert them into a beautiful poster. Visually speaking, the film is just wonderful. Director Guy Moshe clearly has an astute eye for colour and detail. The set design alone, especially in the jail break scene, is worth seeing.

What hinders Bunraku though, is that the film offers nothing more than pretty visuals. Sure the fight scenes have good choreography, but they are not thrilling. The fights also become repetitive rather quickly. If you are making an action film with a thin plot, you better make sure that the action sequences are outstanding. Sadly only one of the fight scenes is somewhat memorable.

The talented cast is underused for the majority of the film. While it is clear the actors are having fun with their roles, their characters are extremely one dimensional. There is really no reason for Demi Moore to be in the film. Her character, Alexandra, is only there to show that Nicola has weaknesses, which is something that could have easily been established without her. The real standout actors in the film are Woody Harrelson and Kevin McKidd. Harrelson brings a comedic touch to the film as the wise bartender who teaches Drifter and Yoshi how to co-exist. McKidd is fantastic as the cold-blooded Killer No. 2. He brings both style and swagger to the character. Besides the great visuals, McKidd’s work is the only other highlight in Bunraku. If you are expecting something more than pretty visuals, Bunraku is not the film for you.


  1. dEmon5:14 pm

    After the review of Drive I heard on the radio this morning, I'm convinced that visuals are all the general viewing public is looking for, sadly - at least in the case of Drive. However, since I was one of the people that rather enjoyed Bunraku - and may have contributed to your high expectations of it - I do have to say that I really did enjoy this movie. Was it a great movie storywise? No, but then I didn't go in expecting that; it was a midnight madness film, after all. It was visually different than any other "action" film I'd ever seen and it was funny. What more do you want? ;p Also, all the actors were there and it was the first midnight madness of the festival, so there's a certain feeling of excitement that may have figured into my positive reviews - that and I nearly tripped Ron Perlman and Kevin McKidd on their way to the stage. I had to make it up to them somehow! ;p

  2. i've been thinking about watching this for a couple of weeks now. i haven't yet because i suspected that it would be exactly as you described.

    i think that perhaps "there's no reason for Demi Moore to be in this movie" could be applied to pretty much every movie she signs up for!

  3. @dEmon – You were definitely one of the culprits that raised my expectation. I was not expecting a deep story by any means but I was hoping for an interesting one at least. I could see how having the cast there in the theatre would heighten the Midnight Madness audience's overall energy. The crowd was not as pumped in the second screening.

    @Toby – There was a time when I really enjoyed seeing Demi Moore in films. Nowadays she just seems to be coasting on her name recognition. The roles she has taken recently are questionable at best.


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