The words "stunning", "spellbinding", and "revelation" are all terms that anyone who is critiquing a film should shun away from. However, in the case of Guy Moshe's Bunraku there are no more fitting words to describe this gem of a film.
The term "bunraku" comes from a 400 year old form of Japanese puppet theatre, and Moeshe uses this classic art form as a muse to paint us a lush visual universe set 400 years in the future, or past, or now... A universe made of origami and string, where guns are replaced by swords, where classic tales of good vs. evil are retold over and over, where killers must move with the lightness of Fred Astaire and strike like Bruce Lee in order to become the best.
Bunraku follows two heroes. First, there is the classic drifter character who is out for revenge, ripped right from the frames of some of Sergio Leone's best. The other hero is the honorable Japanese samurai come to reclaim a stolen family medallion as it is his fathers dying wish.
Both men have come to the same town, on the same train, unknowing that their destinies are intertwined.
You can tell Moshe is a giant fan of Leone and Kurosawa, the main characters here play out their fates just like Eastwood and Mifune. It is this dual storytelling that is one of the strengths of the film, the film changing tone constantly keeps you intrigued right through its two hour run time. If you happen to find the storytelling stiff at least you have something pretty to look at. The art design of the film is, yes... here goes, "stunning" to say the least. The entire film is one giant feast for the eyes, a myriad of colours and practical magic effects that transports you into this fantastic world. The action and fight sequences are heavily influenced by Broadway musicals and are both beautifully choreographed and brutal.
However, there are a few hiccups in the film that cut it short from being perfect. An unseen narrator is at times funny and informative yet for the most part the narrator's longer rants make the film start to feel more The Spirit than Sin City. There's also some secondary character arcs that feel unfinished. If these were left that way intentionally or not is a mystery but the film leaves us some messy holes that would have been better filled.... if you know what i mean. Case and point is Demi Moore's character who plays a woman who is being forced to be with the villian... or is she? She has a backstory that seems interesting and is presented in a 10 second animated segment that leaves a lot of room for questions. Her story is obselete by the end of the film and serves no purpose to the overall film. The same could be said about Woody Harrelson's bartender character, if it wasn't for the fact that he's just so much damn fun to watch.
Overall Bunraku is unlike anything you've ever seen. Where the story gets bogged down there are more than enough sequences that will leave you in awe to not mind so much. Josh Hartnett is fantastic in the lead and plays "the drifter" character like he deserves; dark and brooding. Gackt gives us the picture perfect honourable disciplined samurai. Together they make up any cinephiles cream dream duo.
It is a fantastic, beautiful, whimsical "revelation" of a film that has it's hiccups but overall is entertainment of the highest degree.
Paragraph breaks FTW. After attending a shop opening in The Junction, Robyn and I ride our bikes through the driving rain down Dundas and into a hellish wasteland (aka Roncesvalles after dark), ready to pick up Kris from work and go grab a beer, then head over to the Ryerson for night of MM and Bunraku. I don't know what that word means. Upon arrival at the Buff, and after a quick "Hey Boys" greeting, Kris tells us he's forgotten his glue jar that he needs to huff occasionally in order to maintain his catatonic happy-high. And that we have to go to his house to get it. And that his house is...exactly....where...we....just...came...from. FACK! So off we pedal into the rain, up Rotten Roncey, back to the Junction for Kris to get his glue. We're pretty soaked at this point, and the three of us decide to go the BQM on Ossington to have a quick beer and grab some food before the movie. Byn and I share what is described as pulled-pork poutine, but in actuality is a bed of fries, a couple haphazardly tossed cheese curds, and a massive mound of sloppy joe filling. Disappointment, she wrote. In between bites of his delicious House Burger, Kris commences terror drinking in order to catch up to the buzz Byn and I had on from the previous party's free beer. We exit BQM at approx. 11:40, and the rain has not let up in the least. In fact, I think it has gotten heavier. We say our goodbyes to trooper Byn, and as we grimly unlock our bikes, Kris mans up and declares he is going to take a cab. I wish him well, and say I will catch up with him in line outside the theatre. Then Kris says he will pay for the cab, and before his final word falls silent, my bike has been relocked and I am eagerly pulling Kris by the arm to the nearest bank machine. We soon hail a cab and are on a slow crawl toward Gerrard and Yonge. After Kris tries to assholishly cut into the line quickly filing into the theatre, and is stopped by a security guard who kindly urges us to try the back of the line instead (there is some weird guy in a hoodie frantically pushing Kris into the flowing line and urgently whispering "go! go! go!" into his ear, but I can't see who it is through the rain), we finally make our way into the theatre and to our seats, only marginally better than those at last night's Super screening (which is to say, in the front row, you have to move your head left to right in order to "read" the image onscreen). Shortly after, the movie begins, and it is...different. Like Super, I really have no idea what to expect with this one, and I think that's probably absolutely the best way to approach it. So, let me tell you what to expect: in a land where guns are outlawed, Josh Hartnett is The Drifter, a Man With No Name sort, with lightning quick reflexes and a singular purpose. Gackt is Yoshi, a samurai with skills to match The Drifter's, and a burning desire to reclaim the medallion that is worn around the neck of Ron Perlman's Nicola The Woodcutter, the man who long ago staged a coup and now rules the land with an entourage of 10(?) "Killers", highly trained and deadly henchmen who will stop at nothing to protect any enemies from reaching their master. Kevin McKidd, the most deadly of the Killers, plays The Woodcutter's right hand man, although he himself is tormented by ambitions to the "throne". Woody Harrelson is The Bartender, a sort of Fool, or court jester, who provides some comic relief and a narrative link between the characters. Demi Moore is also in the film. Incredibly ambitious with a previously unseen stylistic sense, Bunraku is a unique, and (I use the word carefully) groundbreaking piece of visual cinema. Half martial arts epic, half spaghetti western, half revenge flick, half Blade Runner-esque dystopian future vision, half this is what Mortal Kombat the Movie should have/could have/would have been if Guy Moshe was at the helm (five halves do make a whole, right?), Bunraku is astonishing, simple on the surface, yet very complex beneath. A staggering cinematic achievement, and the first live action film I have EVER seen where I've welcomed and applauded the CGI, so necessary and integral is it to the film as a whole. The set design, fight choreography, visual FX and art direction are truly mind-blowing. Wow. After a mind-numbing Q&A (dear fellow audience members: "When is this going to be released in theatres/to DVD" is a question a simple internet search can answer for you, please stop stifling the theatre with your inane queries), and some real quick on the spot digital camera self-learning by Kris, we head out into the now non-raining night and leap into a cab which quickly veers into oncoming traffic as our driver screams and laughs. We are shortly thereafter deposited at Dundas and Ossington, where we unlock our bikes, share a deep, passionate mouth-kiss and say "Good evening sir, please let's do this all over again tomorrow night". I mean, at this point, we're hooked; it's not like we have a choice.
PS - Oh yeah, after I got home, I looked up "bunraku" (I guess everyone else in the audience knew what this meant, because no one inquired as much), and it's a traditional Japanese form of puppet theatre. Once you see the film, this title makes PERFECT sense.
PPS - We FINALLY remembered to bring a camera, so here are a few photos, much thanks to paparazzo Kris:
L-R: MM programmer Colin Geddes, The Object of Joe's Affection (Ron Perlman), director Guy Moshe, The Object of Kris' Affection (Gackt), Woody Harrelson, Josh Hartnett (guy talks too much), Kevin McKidd.