Bunraku (2010) Review

It’s been a while since I’ve done a movie review and I stumbled upon a film last night that I think REALLY needs to be shared. I saw an interview online with Josh Hartnett (imdb.com) talking about leaving the Hollywood system for an independent route. A lot of what he was saying I agreed with and during the interview they showed clips from some of his more recent films, including Bunraku (imdb.com). It looked right up my alley so I found it on Netflix Instant and thoroughly enjoyed the next two hours.


Bunraku is a super stylized cross between western, anime, and noir set in a dystopian future where guns no longer exist and a drifter cowboy teams up with an honor-bound samurai to lead a revolution against the tyrannical mob that has a strangle-hold on the area. It stars Josh Hartnett, Gackt (imdb.com), Woody Harrelson (imdb.com), Ron Perlman (imdb.com), Kevin McKidd (imdb.com), and Demi Moore (imdb.com). With such a powerhouse cast (Hartnett, Harrelson, and Perlman are easily on the list of my top actors) it was hard for the film to be a dud.


Most people would knock Bunraku as being a cheap knockoff of Quentin Tarantino; and to be fair there is a lot of Tarantino inspired cinematography and gore. But the story, directing, characters, and (the biggest factor) the art direction really make this a stand out from the rest of the stylized-indy pack.


At the heart of the story is a message about making choices and defining your own future. But this simple theme is hidden in a story about two characters who are so different that they are virtually the same; a double-negative, I know. But Josh Hartnett’s character is a lone drifter looking for vengence and will do anything (or kill anyone) he has to to get what he wants. While he may fight it, he’s an altruist at heart. Gackt plays “Yoshi” a samurai on a mission to recover his father’s prized possession and struggles to not turn into his father while he fights to regain the medallion. The story is shown in a way that may be a tad predictable, but the characters are intertwined in a way that makes you still want to watch.


Part of the reason we actually care about the characters (even Ron Perlman as the evil “Nicola the Woodcutter”) is because of the way they we portrayed. Sure, the actors are all amazing and had outstanding performances, but the directing really made the characters pop. The director, Guy Moshe (imdb.com), is relatively unknown; but he has an eye for contrast in characters that makes for compelling cinema.


But as good as everything else about Bunraku was, the most unique and memorable part of the film was the art direction. Most of the sets we shot as green screen and composited with both 2D and 3D elements that had a life of their own. The colors are super saturated and the vibrancy is a style that I really enjoy. I’m a big fan of anime and the sets, costumes, and make-up are very reminiscent of an anime done as live action. And I know this isn’t part of the production design, but the subtitles were done as comic talk bubbles; but they weren’t annoying, they were integrated into the composition so they didn’t distract but were still legible.


Is Bunraku the best movie ever? No. But it’s definitely unique and has a style that’s hard to not love. The acting is fantastic and the directing even better. You could come up with many worse ways to kill two hours. In fact, if you have two hours go watch it now, it’s on Netflix Instant so you have nothing to lose. You can check out the trailer below:

And you can see the Josh Hartnett interview here:




Bunraku (2010) Review

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