Bunraku screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Bunraku is a mess. That is the only phrase that keeps turning around in my head the more that I think about it. It is an entertaining mess at times, but it is still a mess. Bunraku is the kind of movie that is so needlessly convoluted that one gets the impression that even the writers stopped trying to make sense of it by about the halfway point and decided that the film needed to stick to its strong points: the action sequences that hold the movie together. Bunraku has great fight choreography, but it is so muddled in its message that I really could have cared less. Make me care why these people are fighting; don't simply show me fights for the sake of showing me fights.
To get an idea as to how jumbled and misguided Bunraku is, you need look no further than the opening title sequence. In fact, if you miss this sequence you are totally fucked. Do not even be 30 seconds late to a screening of Bunraku or you will be hopelessly lost for the remaining 117 minutes and 30 seconds of this overstuffed behemoth. The entire backstory of the world of Bunraku is explained over an admittedly awesome display of extra large origami puppetry. The only problem is that everything that is being said needs to be understood to comprehend the film and you can't pay attention to the visuals since without the voiceover (delivered by an equally awesome Mike Patton) you will have no clue in hell what is happening.
In fact, a lot of it is lost on me right now. A lot of it was lost on me then, but here is the gist. Bunraku (the title of which is never explained in the slightest) takes place in a world where guns have been outlawed and survival of the fittest reigns. The land is ruled by Nicola (Ron Perlman), a woodcutter (seriously) who has become the top assassin in all the land. Nicola is never seen by most of the peasants (I don't know, the movie never explains what the fuck Nicola is ruling to begin with) and is never without his trusty axe. In this land, anyone can challenge Nicola's reign and all challenges are met by Nicola's gang of hired killers, none of whom have names, just numbers.
Into this land come two strangers, both of whom have revenge on their minds. Yoshi (Asian singing sensation Gackt) is determined to win back his family's honour and fortune (I think, again, the film does a piss poor job of explaining things the first time you watch it) and a young man simply known as The Drifter (Josh Hartnett) who is there for his own mysterious reasons that will not be divulged until the final reel. At least Hartnett's character is as obtuse on the surface as the rest of the film tries not to be. Along the way they are helped by The Bartender (an utterly wasted but still decent Woody Harrelson) who also has a secret dark connection to Nicola, but instead of exploring it he is simply there to watch fights and drive our heroes around in a comically small car. Demi Moore is also in this film. Her role is so misplaced and half baked it isn't even worth mentioning in this review. It also goes absolutely nowhere. Moore's role in this film makes me madder and madder every time I think about it.
Bunraku is an over plotted clusterfuck drawn out over two hours with a fight scene roughly every 8 minutes. The fight scenes are pretty awesome and the production design is somewhere between delightfully cheesy low budget camp and actually well thought out. Bunraku also makes good use of samurai imagery and philosophy, but needlessly complicates matters by tying it all to a plot that makes no sense. What is even worse is that by the end, when you think everything is going to come together in an awesome conclusion, it instead races to an easily explained conclusion that makes the entire film a giant null set.
Bunraku could, and most probably will, resonate with indiscriminate fans of anime and revisionist westerns. I know a few people who have seen the film and actually love it, but mostly because it does have a "kick ass and take names later" swagger to it that some might find endearing. As a writer, though, I want to roundhouse kick this movie in the face. Really fucking hard.
Rating (out of 4 stars): ** (the extra star is really only for the fight sequences. Make no mistake. I do think this is a one star film going by everything else I have said about it. I also think the film might be cut down upon actual release, meaning I might give it a second shot.)