Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Film Review: Bunraku

Set in the future, Bunraku takes place after a devastating world war. So devastating in fact that guns have been banned in an attempt to quell the 'natural' human instinct for violence. A mysterious drifter (Hartnett), no, make that two mysterious drifters (Gackt), travel to a town ruled by the iron fist of a man known as Nicola the Woodcutter (Perlman) and his band of killers. Joining together, the brooding cowboy and honour-bound samurai set out to settle their personal scores against Nicola and free the town from his clutches.

Bunraku is your typical tale of betrayal and revenge, with a somewhat unoriginal Star Wars 'twist' at the end for good measure. In this sense it offers nothing new, even its 'distinctive' artistic style having all been done before. It is a world where East meets West, something akin to the sci-fi television series, Firefly; a Sin City-esque comic book movie in colour, stealing the video game elements and plinky plonky retro arcade music from Scott Pilgrim with a hint of the campness shown in Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever. It's a fusion of styles; vibrant, colourful, but ultimately a splat of paint on a blank canvas. In many ways, writer and director Guy Moshe has achieved something similar to Zack Snyder's teenage boy's wet dream, Sucker Punch. It's all nonsense and exists only to look cool. It neglects narrative and character in much the same fashion, merely plonking one-dimensional archetypes in an epileptic fit inducing world. It even uses the same concept of adding a voiceover who feels its place is to interject every now and again. Pretentious Confucianisms such as "Death has no messengers. It delivers itself" impart its own brand of mangled philosophy, supposedly to sound vaguely East-Asian and so keeping in tone with the film. However, no amount of flowery language compensates for Bunraku's otherwise lack of depth.

If it weren't for its cast Bunraku could have been a whole lot worse. And even then, characters have either been poorly cast or underused. Josh Hartnett just looks too young to pull off gruff, world-weary cowboy drifter while Japanese popstar Gackt is coated in so much eyeliner that he appears too feminine to be a believable formidable bushido warrior. Woody Harrelson, who ordinarily brings so much to anything he's in, skulks in the background, never doing anything more than act as a plot device where necessary (takes our heroes here, tells them to go there). Ron Perlman, normally just as effective as Harrelson in providing films with character and personality, is equally underused. Instead he is saved for the final act, only to have a midlife crisis. Kevin McKidd is probably the best thing about Bunraku, evidently enjoying his role as Killer #2, a vicious stone-cold assassin who looks like something of a cross between John Lennon and a Droog from A Clockwork Orange. Yet again however he falls foul to that Hollywood convention of your typical British villain.

Of course, the ban on firearms has merely caused man to revert back to more primitive methods of hacking and maiming each other. As such, martial arts and swordplay are the order of the day. Indeed, for all its artistic and character blandness, Bunraku should really succeed in its action sequences. After all, this is supposed to be a showcase of nifty combat techniques and astonishing stunts. While there are certainly elements of coolness in places, overall everything just feel shoddily edited together. Bunraku is consequently a jerky experience. The action is hectic and the way in which it is pieced together makes everything go by in a blur to the point where you'll blink and wonder what just happened. After a while what should be the film's bread and butter only becomes tiresome.

While Bunraku's basic gruel is admittedly somewhat more nourishing than Sucker Punch, it is still bland, instantly forgettable and not half as eloquent and arty as it likes to think it is. There are some nice touches, such as the use of comic book balloons acting as subtitles for the Japanese parts, but ultimately it just seems gimmicky without a whole load of substance. Its pretentious philosophical musings scarcely compensate and the result is a jumbled world of borrowed ideas and candy colours. Bunraku is like getting an XBox 360 for christmas, only to open the packaging and find that there's no console inside.