Bunraku – finally a film that lives up to the quotes on the box

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Wow, just…  Wow.  I don’t mean that sarcastically either, which is quite the departure for me.  When I see things like “BY FAR THE BEST FILM I’VE SEEN ALL YEAR”, “A FEAST FOR THE EYES” and “BEYOND BRILLIANT” in bold capitals it’s normally a sign that the DVD will be spending a lot of time sitting on the shelf before it’s watched again.  This wasn’t the case here…

I suppose I should start by explaining the name.  Bunraku is a type of Japanese puppet theatre, and that’s important why?  Because this film takes that idea, and makes it live action.

I’ll get the actors & characters out the way now, Josh Hartnett is (to my eyes) the main lead.  An initially nameless stranger with hands apparently so fast he can manipulate card games like a pro – something thankfully they didn’t make that part of his fighting beyond the first punch.  Gackt is the other lead, another initially nameless character.  Both leads are great, although I find Gackt the least entertaining.  Woody Harrelson is a bartender, who may as well be called “Mr. Exposition” since he constantly provides information & pushes the plot forward.  Kevin McKidd & Ron Perlman are the bad guys.  As far as the plot goes Perlman is the main bad guy, but you’ll be seeing McKidd a lot more throughout as Killer #2 – yes, that’s the character’s name.  McKidd is a show stealer when he’s on camera, everything he does grabs your attention right from the moment you see him fight in an opening scene.  In a way he makes me think back to A Clockwork Orange, he doesn’t use the same language but the way he speaks & moves reminds me of it.  Oh, and Demi Moore is there as a mostly disposable love interest of sorts – though she hasn’t much screen time & TBH doesn’t do much.  I suppose she does have an integral part to some character stories, but that’s about as far as her character goes.  The whole bunch put in great performances within the context of the film, but that’s not where this shines.  There’s a deliberate cheesiness to it all, and it’s just further adds to the general experience.

It’s all about the visuals, the style, and did I mention the visuals?  Not in a Sucker Punch way, so nothing is there just because someone decided to show their art skills.  Expect CG, lots of CG, also traditional styled animation, and sets that either look like they were made from paper or like they were taken directly from a stage show.  It all ties together wonderfully, CG transitions from scene to scene are something you’ll have to get used to – some are quite unexpected taking you completely by surprise.

As I said the sets look handmade – and it’s on purpose, referring back to the name & puppet shows.  In fact, if it wasn’t for the amount of space it would require and the CG, you could easily mistake it for a stage show.  It really does look fantastic, you never see a real sky once, instead there’s a giant backdrop of a sky stylised to fit in with everything else.  Even the costumes fit, I don’t mean they look like they were put together with glue, they just fit the whole style perfectly.  Even the subtitles are styled, looking like hand written notes on scraps of paper.  It really does live up to the “feast for the eyes” statement.

The audio is equally fantastic, the score fits every scene perfectly changing constantly to fit the mood.  Added sound effects, like the sound of a revolver barrel spinning every time Hartnett runs his hand down the brim of his hat are throughout.  It’s silly, but perfectly fits what’s going on.  Even the fighting has over the top sounds dubbed on, somewhat like old martial arts films, but mixed with the soundtrack’s instrument hits; much like the 60’s Batman series.  As a final addition to the auditory greatness, Mike Patton narrates to tie what’s going on together with the occasional silliness added on top.

There’s fighting throughout most the film, most of which is pretty good.  The choreography isn’t fantastic, but it is serviceable.  I supposed since it shies away from flamboyant combat the majority of the time it fits better, combat is usually straight to the point and at times, a plain and simple one sided beating.  Killer #2 makes for interesting scenes due to him moving somewhat like he’s in an old musical.  Hartnett on the other hand uses, well, his hands.  Relying on his fists throughout and providing one of my favourite fights towards the end in a sort of mirror-match.  Gackt is more typical of what you’d expect, he’s playing the cliché Japanese swordsman so in that respect he got the short straw.

Plot wise it’s fairly basic.  It’s set in a future city in a world where guns are outlawed and the strongest rule – literally.  Nicola the Woodcutter and his gang rule the city, his gang all dressed in red, contains 10 killers (including himself) – well technically the whole gang are killers, but there are 10 elite.  Killer #2 pretty much runs everything for him, since people want to kill Nicola to gain control.  Add two strangers, both after Nicola for their own reasons and you have the basic idea.  It sort of reminds me of No More Heroes, except with more style (and less masturbation jokes) which says a lot.

This is one to watch if you like films, yes I think it’s appeal is that wide.  It’s rare I see a film that comes close to meeting the claims on the box, this one exceeded them & my expectations.  Not a chance this will be gathering dust on a shelf, in fact I’m going to watch it again now.  It’s that damned good.