Bunraku (2010) – Review

2 1/2 Stars


According to Wikipedia the art of Bunraku is a 400-year-old form of Japanese theater that uses 4-foot-tall puppets with highly detailed heads, each operated by several puppeteers who blend into the background wearing black robes and hoods. Bunraku the movie is a sometimes stunning film that has been over-stylized to the point of incomprehensibility. This visually striking movie merges samurai films, spaghetti westerns and Hollywood golden era musicals. This recipe proves a mixed result with some intriguing moments of originality but too often director Guy Moshe gets carried away with his outlandish artistic flourishes.

The storyline is essentially a rehash of the commonly used ‘no-name stranger coming to town and ending up in a bigger struggle’ structure that is prevalent in works from master filmmakers Kurosawa and Sergio Leone. However too many abrupt and awkward shifts in tone repeatedly hinder the film, but are perhaps necessary to compensate for what on paper is a sub-par story ripped from the better elements of greater films. A major problem is the casting of Josh Hartnett. Here he plays the toughest outlaw in the land in search of a game of cards in an unusual town. Hartnett is wrong for the part. He is still too baby faced and his mannered posturing comes off as ‘acting’ in the worst sense of the word.

While Bunraku isn’t a successful film there are moments of stunning creativity and originality. An impressive opening sequence featuring origami, animation, and some Bunraku theater is a standout. Spike Lee’s frequent collaborator Terence Blanchard contributes a classy score that rightly accentuates the sonic elements from different genres. Director Guy Moshe is obviously a very talented a unique voice. His film is alive and that’s more than can be said for most of the product filling up screens nowadays. Moshe’s cinematic influences seem to most closely resemble Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, for those reasons I’m giving Bunraku a mild recommendation but admittedly it’s not for all tastes. Your either going to go with it or not. For those that embrace absurd exuberance there is a good time to be had. Uniformly well acted by a superb supporting cast including Woody Harrelson and Ron Perlman.

Director: Guy Moshe
Stars: Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore, Woody Harrelson

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