Late 2010 I had the opportunity to attend the 7th Dubai International Film Festival. I watched a good amount of the Small Arabic and Middle Eastern based indie films on show some of which have been very professionally done and a joy to watch and some of which were unfortunately dull and lacked quality. One of the scheduled screenings that immediately caught my attention on looking through the films on show was “Bunraku” by Guy Moshe. Due for official release sometime in 2011 it was described in the film guide as a combination of a Clint Eastwood style spaghetti western, classic kung fu and Japanese puppet theatre.
Guy Moshe’s “Bunraku”, is ambitious to say the least. In a futuristic world where guns are outlawed, a mysterious drifter (Josh Hartnett) and master samurai (Gackt) find their paths intertwined after a chance meeting. The drifter, out for revenge the samurai who is looking to reclaim an ancient family amulet, put aside their mutual distrust and decide to work together. The pair are then further aided by a bartender (Woody Harrelson) with intimate knowledge of the region and its major players. The trio continue to pursue their target, the most powerful man east of the Atlantic, Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Pearlman). However, the drifter and the samurai must first contend with Nicola’s nine greatest warriors, appropriately named “The Killers”, and led by the deadly Killer Number 2 (Kevin McKidd) who does a fantastic job with the intriguing character he plays.
The number of different influences incorporated into Guy Moshe’s Bunraku is phenomenal. Mixing Japanese puppet theatre, spaghetti western and samurai epic into one package works surprising well. Bunraku attempts to integrate these components and give the viewer a unique experience. The highly stylized sets were designed to allow complete freedom of camera movement and facilitate human movement required for the action sequences. Within the set, visual effects, lighting and the costumes are many different, often saturated colours, which create an impressive world with a very rich and vibrant look to it.
The characters though purposefully mysterious, remain intriguing, partially due to little easily missed characteristics and odd habits they pertain. The Drifter is a vicious fighter known for having very quick hands in which he wields knuckle dusters whose strength and rage are exposed when he has the uncontrollable urge sniff an unlit cigarette. He originally has no goals or direction, he's just a drifter who wandered into town looking for a game of cards in a town where gambling is band and a lust for violence and gore seems to be the most prevalent of to pass the time. Yoshi (Gackt) is a young Samurai from the East who has been sent on a quest by his father. His mission is to find and retrieve a Dragon Amulet that represents great power for his family and while he's at it become a man. Seeking information, both men end up in a small bar (with a sort of western/clockwork orange theme), that is run by Woody Harrelson a humorous bartender. After each individually beats down the biker gang that frequents the bar, their paths cross and the two lone wolves turn eyes toward each other. To get their issues with each other out of the way, The Bartender agrees to moderate an epic atmospheric battle where the two warriors stylistically beat the living daylights out of each other. It was a long, epic well thought out fight scene which is made all the more enjoyable by great use of music and sound effects during the entire scene. The plot develops further as Harnett is able to gain access to Nicola's weekly poker game. Nicola plays in costume via video link, and despite cheating, Harnett is able to knock out all the other players and obtain the majority of the chips. Harnett leaves all the chips that are more than rightfully his to cash and requests to end the game face to face. Yoshi's Uncle- who runs a sushi restaurant- is being harassed by the Red Suits, and Yoshi's intervention puts him at odds with Killer #2. Things happen, battles ensue, people die, and our two lone wolves realize that they have a common enemy and could thus benefit from each others' friendship. During the poker game, the drifter realizes that Nicola has the Amulet that Yoshi seeks. Although all the lone wander wishes is to end his unfinished game of cards. Throw The Bartender into the mix as Nicola ended his Warrior career and stole the love of his life, Alexandra (Demi Moore) along with the soldiers of the Proletariat Peasant Uprising who seek to overthrow Nicola's violent and oppressive rule and you have a force that is able to take on the Killers and their army of Red Suits. As the Peasants battle the Red Suits, our two warriors must slay their way up the hierarchy in order to reach their ultimate matches, vs Killer #2 and Nicola himself. Will good triumph over evil in this epic tale. You'll have to watch it to find out, trust me...you won't be disappointed. This is one of the most visually stunning and original films I've ever seen. The opening animation (which gives us the back-story) uses CGI that emulates paper cut-out stop motion in combination with Japanese style Bunraku origami puppeteers, and sets the stage for the aesthetic atmosphere that will absorb the rest of the film. The background scenery has an origami look and feel to it as well, and as the camera pans over "Little Westworld", the scenery "unfolds" as if it were popping up from pages opening in a pop-up book. Moshe cleverly plays with this idea with The Bartender character. This has an absolutely amazing effect I've never seen anything like it. It is definitely the atmosphere which makes this film so artistically incredible and visually consuming.
The dialogue is witty and interesting and the dance-like fight sequences are fantastic to watch. It is truly original engrossing atmosphereic and packed with Mind Blowing Action performed by a impressive cast. Overall this is a very well done movie that should not be missed. The dialogue is witty and interesting and the dance-like fight sequences are fantastic to watch.