Wednesday, October 05, 2011


If I was going to see this, I kind of wish I'd been able to see it as the closing night film of the Boston Film Festival, just to see what sort of gushing introduction about how visionary and brilliant it was the people running that event gave it. Probably better I didn't, though - that sort of thing is funny to imagine, but raises my blood pressure when encountered in person.

Bunraku isn't visionary, of course; even though it's supposedly been sitting in the can for a while, it hardly predates the constructed/abstract environments of Sky Captain, Sin City, or 300. It's got some of the more interesting ones, and the integration is smoother than one might expect, too. In some ways, I think it would work a lot better as a comic book than a movie; you'd likely have to lose the puppet bits, but this sort of genre crossover happens all the time in that medium, and pretentious voice-over seems to go over better there (especially in manga). Or it could have been crowded off the page - if the ramblings were actually taking up space rather than just seemingly being placed alongside the visuals, Moshe might cut them down.

Anyway, this is a disappointment, but does have some things worth looking at. It'll be out of Boston on Friday (although out on video in November), so there's just a couple of days to see it on the big screen if you are so inclined.


* * (out of four)
Seen 2 October 2011 in AMC Boston Common #15 (first-run)

"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.

Full review at EFC.

No comments: