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rochefort [Film Festival 10.02.10] movie review action fantasy

Year: 2010
Directors: Guy Moshe
Writers: Guy Moshe
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort"
Rating: 6 out of 10

Bunraku is a style of Japanese puppet theater, and in "Bunraku", the new film by director Guy Moshe, these same puppets are used in an extended opening wherein we learn that the world's continents have fused into a quasi-Pangaea after eons of war have shifted the continents. Mankind has learned at least one thing from all that destruction: all firearms have been banned, in every province, under penalty of death. One day a gunless gunfighter known only as the Drifter (Josh Hartnett) mosies into town at the same time disgraced swordsman Yoshi (Gackt Camui) returns to his family home. Both have scores to settle with big boss Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman), who rules over the land using his enforcers the Nine Killers, led by Killer #2 ("Rome"'s Kevin McKidd, clearly gunning to reinvent himself with this role), and an army of red-clad thugs known as the Red Suits.

Sporting a myriad of primary color-drenched costumes and sets, a pan-cultural approach to its world-building, fight choreography that ranges from stilted to pretty good, and a score that plays out like the random function on a crazy person's ipod, "Bunraku" is a truly, deeply, sincerely weird bird of a movie. Unfortunately, it's not the kind of weird that defines the best cult films, the ranks of which it so earnestly wishes to join. Jodorowsky's "Holy Mountain", for example, is the kind of weird that you get when the filmmaker responsible may be an actual alien from outer space. So is it with Lynch's "Eraserhead" or Fellini's "Satyricon". "Bunraku" is what happens when the current generation learns weird not from their own experiences, but from movies like the ones above, and the derivation leaves an often damning impression. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, here, and should probably set the stage a little more effectively. Imagine two revenge movies, one a "Man with No Name" style western, the other a samurai pic, throw both of their main characters into a gadgetless, quasi-cyberpunk far-future setting, write overly long scenes full of hand-wringing angst for every star who agrees to participate, and then place them into sets that alternately call to mind either the sparse minimalism of Dr. Seuss' "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T" or the garish excess of Warren Beatty's "Dick Tracy", and you've kinda got an idea of what to expect from "Bunraku". But here's the thing: despite the fact that this experiment often comes off like a homework assignment from an art student who is simply trying too hard, it just as often becomes a legitimately appealing psychedelic soup, and I can't whole-heartedly write it off. Moshe and company may be trying way, way too hard at times, but damn if I don't admire their collective pluck.

After the opening intro, we're introduced to McKidd's Killer #2, who fights against a small band of rabble rousers in a style that fuses multiple sword-based martial arts with inflections and poses from Noh theatre, and if this scene doesn't work for you at all, then you should probably just get the hell out now. Because this opening fight more or less embodies everything that's good and bad about "Bunraku". One minute we're watching fight choreography that doesn't really work or excite, the next we're admiring a bespectacled McKidd (who, more than anyone else in the cast, comes out at the end smelling the best) adjust his hat, flip his ornate scarf, and strike a most excellent pose in preparation for the next assault. You go from loving to hating to loving the scene, back and forth, like, a dozen times before Perlman shows and wraps things up, clad in a getup that's so ridiculous it crosses over into awesome. At this point, we're barely ten minutes into the proceedings, and haven't even yet met Hartnett's gunslinger who fights with his lightning-fast fists, or Woody Harrelson's bartender, or Demi Moore's whore. Yeah, man, that's right. Demi Moore. See what I mean? You almost have to dare yourself to see this through. And just when you think a most unforgivable error has occurred (see Moore, above), then the filmmakers go and do something really, really cool. One scene you're in what looks like a set from a college presentation of "West Side Story" that somebody just forgot to dismantle, and the next you're in Perlman's eye-poppingly gorgeous lair. Come to think of it, "Bunraku" often feels like the evil, excessive twin of a Dogma 95 movie, one in which the director has committed to mickeying Production Designer Chris Farmer's drink with a radically different narcotic every day of the shoot.

The story furthers the weirdness, featuring way too many speeches and subplots and complications for what is really nothing more than a pulpy, comic-book revenge movie. And just when you're looking at your watch during another soliloquy that takes itself far too seriously, the narrator (Mike Patton; that's right, THE Mike Patton of Faith No More and Mr. Bungle) tells you something so ludicrous that it almost seems like he's trying to rewrite the script on the fly. It works as often as not. Oddly enough, in the scenes where the writing is most convoluted, the settings are often the most bland, but as events head towards the climax and the narrative settles into a more streamlined action pic, the sets and vistas actually become more consistently awe-inspiring. Or maybe that's not odd at all. After all, this is a sci-fi action picture where cowboys play cards in front of rice paper walls while Terence Blanchard's score keeps dropping in like a house guest who just threw up on your carpet but still won't leave, so what the hell, maybe it was always part of the master plan. A musical with no musical numbers, "Bunraku" is this year's model for wackadoo, and as much as certain scenes made me wish for the whole thing to just be over, the honest truth is that I fully intend to see it again.

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Emi (12 years ago) Reply

Hahaha! The over-all summary: conflicted.

I've been waiting for this movie since 2008, so I fully intend to see it at least once. However, I've read so many mixed reviews, I really don't know what to think. Maybe it's one of those movies that grows on you =/
Anyways, thanks for the review :)

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