Eunice does Bunraku

bunraku-poster“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, will forever make better grammatical balance than turning the other cheek.”

The Scoop: 2010 R, directed by Guy Moshe and starring Josh Hartnett, Gackt, Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman, Kevin McKidd, and Demi Moore

Tagline: A civilized weapon for uncivilized times

Summary Capsule: Japanese Western set in a dystopian future.

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Eunice’s Rating: “New eras don’t come about because of swords, they’re created by the people who wield them.”

Eunice’s Review: I seem to remember hearing about this movie way back when it came out. But then the reviews were bad for it? Or I wasn’t able to remember the title? Something. For some reason I never actually saw it. Now I think to myself, ‘How has it taken me this long?’

In the far off future guns, and gun like weapons, have been extremely outlawed. This brought forth a new age where violent men returned to swords as the weapon of choice, with some specializing in other weapons like axes, trick canes, brass knuckles, etc. These men formed gangs, each gang with twenty members. One stands above all others: Nicola The Woodcutter. “The most powerful man this side of the Atlantic” he walks around in a cape and large, wide brimmed hat, and as Killer Number One he is the baddest bad, with his hand picked (and also numbered) underlings.

Enter The Drifter, dressed like a ’30s gangster and acting like a mysterious cowboy he comes to town looking for information on a poker game that Nicola attends. And so it is he meets The Bartender, a man with a limp and a past and a knack for making popup books. When the Drifter needs money to stake him in the game it’s then he meets Yoshi, an honorable samurai struggling to figure out what that means as he travels the path of Jin and tries to reclaim his family’s honor by reclaiming a medallion worn by Nicola.

I have to be honest I didn’t fall in love with Bunraku at first sight. My knee jerk reaction was ‘oh no it’s gonna be like The Spirit.’ But while I was hesitant to it I was also intrigued enough to keep watching, and, while I wouldn’t call the movie itself subtle, it works with a subtle creative charm that by the end I had really warmed up to it. Bunraku is best watched when you’re in the mood for something that stretches the imagination, but actually carries a comprehendable, if basic, story. In this way it’s more Cool World.

Even though the cast is filled out with people I know can come through with solid performances, I’m still impressed.

The Drifter and Yoshi get most of the screen time in our trio of protagonists. Josh Hartnett brings the same acting level that he had going in Lucky Number Slevin (my personal favorite Hartnett movie), while chaneling that Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars mysterious fighter. Gackt (who I know from my anime days, for everyone else he’s a Japanese musician/singer) surprises me here as I didn’t realize he acts too. Yoshi is almost too pretty with intelligence but still feels like a fish out of water coming from the country into the city. You don’t know what the Drifter’s motivation is until the end and he comes off as aloof, where in Yoshi’s case you meet his family and as he’s a benevolent samurai. The two balance each other out.

Our third, The Bartender, is Woody Harrelson who with less screen time still manages to steal the focus when he’s on screen. Can I just say how much I like where he’s at as an actor right now? He plays the older, more philosophical character as a former Killer contender with his own beef with Nicola. No one plays the cheeky wise character like Harrelson.

On the other side of the cast you have Kevin Mckidd as our more face time villain Killer No. 2 (You may know him from Grey’s Anatomy or Made of Honor) and Ron Perlman as Nicola. Killer No. 2 is a nasty piece of work, fighting with a cane and particular cruelty, he’s also a misogynist and even Nicola doesn’t really like him. It’s like someone went through a bad guy checklist and put it into a guy who looks like a red Riddler. Somehow in the over the top feel of the movie it works though.

Ron Perlman is a lot like Woody Harrelson in that while he doesn’t get as much actual screen time as Mckidd, when he’s there he steals the show, and the character of Nicola is an ever present oppressiveness in the world of the movie. Nicola isn’t reinventing any wheels and it would’ve been easy for Perlman to phone it in, but instead he brings it, and keeps reminding me why I’m such a fan of his.

Demi Moore comes in as one of only two named female characters (the other is Yoshi’s cousin Momoko) as Alexandra, Nicola’s “woman.” I can’t talk too much about her as explaining anything about her is spoilery, but it’s actually a nice part for Moore.

But the thing that really impresses me about the actors is how free and committed to the world they all are. It’s something I’ve discussed in other reviews for “weird” movies, but it’s something I can’t say enough: All your actors must be on the same page, because the more out there the universe the more you’re going to depend on them to sell your vision and bridge the disconnect with your audience. Guy Moshe put together an excellent cast and pulled out just what he needed from them.

Visually this movie is distinctive. While there is quite a bit of CGI, there’s also a lot of stylized sets giving things a depth that’s lacking in full CGI. (Think the sets from Dick Tracy) Transitions are done with animation and stop motion. The way the Killers are introduced via a scrolling comic strip on the side of the screen. Subtitles are presented in a framed comic book font.

If you’re like me, the first time you’ll go, “Wha?” is when Ron Perlman comes out in that ridiculous hat – but stick with it. Eventually when you can get into the groove of the movie it works. This was something I found on a second viewing, knowing where the movie was going and having the knowledge that it all does come together, I was able to just sit back and enjoy it.

Also want to point out the sound. There are so many details, so many little touches I can’t even imagine how much fun it must of been to be the sound guy on this. My favorite bit may be how every time the Drifter runs his fingers over the brim of his hat you hear the sound of someone spinning the cylinder of a revolver. But there are other nods like the scrolling video game noise as the characters fight their way through thugs, and – gosh I just really loved the sound department on this one.

It’s an odd movie. Above all you must understand, this is one long homage to the ‘nameless drifter comes to troubled town’ movies and the ‘honorable traveling samurai’ movies and revenge/fighter movies. All mixed together with an over stylized comic book flavor.

If your looking for something violently quirky, dripping in style, it is definitely worth checking out.

I'm a lumberjack, and that's okay. Or you die!

I’m a lumberjack, and that’s okay. Or you die!

Intermission!

  • Bunraku is a kind of ancient Japanese puppet theater.
  • The Bartender and Alexandra’s Yin and Yang tattoos.
  • A better translation for “Jin” is “Benevolence”. Benevolence is actively trying to do good or be charitable (or not performing an action: ie showing mercy). One of the Five Tenets Of Confucius (Ren), it is the hardest of the virtues/tenets to achieve.
  • I love Jordi Mollà

Groovy Quotes

The Narrator: Life, every man holds dear. But the dear man holds honor far more precious than dear life. Especially if that man happens to be Japanese.

Yoshi: Who are you?
The Drifter: Either a friend or a foe. Depends on who is looking.
Yoshi: I’m looking.
The Drifter: Maybe you should look somewhere else.

Yoshi: Spiders don’t have superpowers.
The Bartender: But they can climb walls.

Yoshi: Great lessons are often found in defeat.

The Bartender: Sh! Did you hear that?

The Bartender: My bed is calling me.

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