Before one even begins this film, it is necessary to understand the meaning of the title. The term bunraku refers to a form of Japanese puppet theater with its origins in the 17th century. At its best, bunraku is an art form. At its worst, it’s a campy movie with Josh Hartnett.
This is not to say that “Bunraku” is an altogether bad movie. Fans of modern film noir camp like “Sin City” and “The Spirit” might appreciate “Bunraku’s” charm.
Where the plot is concerned, the character of the bar owner (Woody Harrelson) sums it up thusly: “A cowboy in a world without guns and a samurai with no sword team up to fight evil.” That’s basically the gist of it.
Yoshi (Gackt), the aforementioned samurai, is in search of an heirloom medallion that was stolen from his family years before by a crime boss known as Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman—“Hellboy,” “Sons of Anarchy”). The Woodcutter surrounds himself by skilled killers who are named simply for their rank, the best of which is, appropriately, Killer #2 (Kevin McKidd. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare fans might recognize him as the voice of “Soap” MacTavish).
Going after the Woodcutter for his own reasons is a mysterious drifter (Josh Hartnett) who can kill people with a single punch. Bringing these two warriors together under one banner is the bartender whose woman (Demi Moore) was also taken by the Woodcutter.
The setting of the film is in an extremely colorful world reminiscent of 1990’s “Dick Tracy” and definitely lends the effect that the entire story takes place in an enclosed theater-world. But it’s the style of the bartender’s paper figure pop-up book that defines the world of the film; for that reason, Kamishibai—the name for Japanese paper plays—would have been a far more suitable title for the flick.
If the improper title were the only nonsensical thing about this film, that would be fine. Unfortunately, there are more issues—the major one being there is a lack of suspense throughout the film. It could be because the Yoshi character gives off an Oriental Michael Jackson/tranny vibe. Maybe it’s that some of the battles hold all the danger and detriment of a “West Side Story” street fight with the Three Stooges.
Futhermore, equipping a man who can kill with a single punch with his very own set of brass knuckles seems more than redundant.
There are some clever scenes, however. For instance, in Yoshi’s fight against his evil twin, the duel seems to pay homage to moments in both Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro” and “Seven Samurai.”
So, if you don’t wish to be emotionally invested in a film and only marginally entertained by it then “Kamishibai,“ er “Bunraku” is worth a watch.
Ammo Dump rating: 4 bullet-less guns
(Rated R; 124 min.)
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