Bunraku (2010)

(On DVD, December 2011) Every so often, a visually ambitious film slips through the cracks of distribution and promotion to land almost unannounced on video-store shelves.  From the first few moments, executed with a gorgeous mixture of animation and puppet-theater, it’s obvious that Bunraku is going to be an odd and interesting film.  With its fantasy-world mixture of western and samurai iconography, colourful art direction and dynamic direction, Bunraku certainly looks and feels completely different from your run-of-the-mill film.  Experimental, action-packed, crammed with confident performances, it’s also a movie that aspires to the “hidden gem” section of anyone’s collection, right next to films just as The Fall and Sin City: not perfect, maybe not even accessible to audiences who aren’t predisposed to this kind of genre-blending, but surprisingly satisfying to those to do get it and certainly looks like no other film: writer/director Guy Moshe has put together a lovely piece of art.  Josh Hartnett and Gackt share the lead roles, but Woody Harrelson, Ron Perlman and Kevin McKidd get more remarkable roles as supporting players.  (McKidd is particularly good as an eccentric killer.)  The script certainly could have been tightened up: Demi Moore’s character doesn’t look as if she has anything to do, the dialogue sometimes veers toward the pretentious and there’s a pacing slowdown during the third act of the film.  Nonetheless, Bunraku gains back all of its lost points on sheer visual fun alone, and from its references to other tough-guy movies.  For a film that never really showed widely in North-American theaters, I predict a modest cult following.

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