Josh Hartnett and J-POP performer Gackt co-star as two men on a self-imposed mission of vengeance. Hartnett’s “Drifter” and Gackt as the swordless ronin Yoshi are both going after the same ruthless woodcutter (Ron Perlman), and they’ll need all the help they can gather to bring him down.
Ambling towards a Finish
If you’re looking for deep storytelling, you’re probably better off sitting this one out. This is a barebones tale of revenge; flimsy plot strung together by action sequences and tryingtoohard dialog.
It helps that the casting is composed of mostly seasoned acting talent like Woody Harrelson and Ron Perlman, but even they can only do so much with what’s on the page. This isn’t to say that the story is a total loss, however.
Even the lamest of stories (most of them) have elements that work. At its heart, BUNRAKU is the story of the Woodcutter, but through the eyes of the town and the people he’s touched by his dictatorship and brutality. Our two protagonists are who they’ve become because of him. It’s not hard to see how the initial idea of this movie could have pulled in the cast of actors that it did. It’s only a shame that the script didn’t spend that extra bit of time needed to really nail the original intent.
Ooh, Bright Colors
Even without understanding the meaning of the film’s title, it quickly becomes clear that visually the movie appears to have been influenced by the medium of puppetry and pop-up books. The title sequence and intro is actually told with puppets and one the film’s characters shares a story in the form of a pop-up book.
The design influence goes further as the sets are bold, bright, and relish in their factitious-ness. The entire film is shot on a soundstage, though no attempt is made to hide that fact. The lighting is also quite dramatic. Very harsh at times, non-existent at others. Much more like theater lighting, as opposed to anything that might be mistaken for reality.
It may ware out its welcome for some, but I think it works for the most part. It also manages to feel complementary to the action sequences that litter the movie’s running time.
Only Hurts a Little
The fight sequences span the entire run, but the choreography manages to keep each bout unique. From the faux-rooftops, to the streets, the stunts and fights are hard hitting and just lengthy enough to keep the audience entertained. Each of the principle fighters have their unique styles. Hartnett is a boxer with punches that kill. The Gackt’s ronin abores using a blade, but will cut you just as well with any object he can use as a shinai. The woodcutter ofcourse is quite handy with an axe.
I found the mixing and matching of each fighting style to be what helped separate each clash. Oh, I forgot to mention Kevin McKidd as No. 2. His albino character, bodyguard of sorts to the Woodcutter, sees most of the action in the film. He’s one of the few highlights to watch.
As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but recall the showdown at the house of blue leaves. The artificial skies, the washitsu design sense, the dialog, and ofcourse the fight our way to the top storyline. It’s Kill Bill, but instead of a vengeful bride, it’s two vengeful dudes. Heck, even as I write this I’m reminded that they’ve even lifted the simple character naming scheme.
It’s clearly a copycat to the Tarantino favourite, and a lesser one at that, but it’s not without its appeal. It’s hard to find decent fight choreography outside of Asian cinema. This one handles itself quite nicely. If for no other reason, it may be worth your time for that.
C- for storytelling
B- for action and fights
C+ for production design
Overall a solid C grade.