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Bunraku


Hard to say, hard to love.

Rod Lott November 1st, 2011

“Bunraku” gets its name from a form of traditional Japanese puppetry, but it may as well be called “Cowboys and Samurai” or something equally generic. The sophomore effort of director Guy Moshe raises hopes for something special in its animated opening credits, which depict violence throughout civilization, but there’s simply too much going on here for a rather simple revenge story.

bunraku

With an unfortunate Burt Reynolds mustache, Josh Hartnett (“30 Days of Night”) plays a drifter — that’s literally his character’s name — who rolls into town, which looks like the Old West has been given a face-lift courtesy of “Moulin Rouge”’s Baz Luhrmann. His fists are supposedly as mean as his game of cards. Sporting more unfortunate dreads is Ron Perlman (“Drive” as Nicola — rhymes with the cough drop Ricola), the movie’s evil overlord.

Also on the lookout for Nicola is another new arrival is Yoshi (played by Japanese musician Gackt — just Gackt, which sounds like the hacking noise Bill the Cat made in the “Bloom County” comic strip), a samurai in need of a sword. Gackt’s got some nice fight moves, but his face has such starkly feminine features, his appearance threw me for a bit.

On paper, there’s nothing wrong with “Bunraku.” On film, its flaws start to show after the first reel — ironically, thanks to the one thing it really has going for it: its style. Deliberately artificial (per Moshe’s commentary), the style is one that blends Pop Art, circus imagery and dance-club mood lighting. With narration (by Mike Patton of Faith No More), the film layers on comic-book labels, video-game sound effects and even a car chase rendered as a round of pinball. When Perlman calls in any of his nine — count ’em, nine — appointed killers to assist, a string of signs pops into frame until the correct number is found.

This visual bit, like all the others, is cute the first time and then driven into the ground, like how corporate radio removes any fizz from hit singles by playing them every hour. The ideas are good ones, but employed too often, as if Moshe feared losing viewers. The inexcusable two-hour-and-two-minute running time does that all by itself. It might be more novel if recent East-meets-West mash-ups “The Warrior’s Way” and “The Butcher, the Chef and the Swordsman” hadn’t done it better.

Oh, and Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore have supporting roles, so those wishing for an “Indecent Proposal” reunion will have to make do with this, minus Robert Redford. —Rod Lott

 
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