Bunraku  (2010)

A western-meets-samurai, with a Sin City-esque comic books style, a bit of Tim Burton, and maybe even some nods to the visual style of old silent movies all mash up to form "Bunraku".

This was one of those movies I had never heard of, and just happened to come across it while scanning through the guide on TV. I saw the names Woody Harrelson and Ron Perlman, and thought it could be worth a shot. It was either going to be really good or really bad, but hopefully bad in a fun way.

Everything takes place in the future, after a huge world war resulted in the remaining governments joining together and banning all guns. This left people turning to other options like swords, staffs, axes, and simply fists. The premise works great because, while shoot-em-ups can be fun, I always think it's more fun to watch hand-to-hand combat movies.

The plot is fairly straight-forward, bringing back memories of the classic westerns combined with classic kung fu movies. A mysterious stranger rolls into town, punching and kicking his way through low-level thugs during his quest for vengeance that eventually leads him to a climactic battle with the big boss. What separates this movie from others is the visual. The colors are vivid, the characters are borderline cartoony, the costumes are outlandish. The scenery at times takes notes from German Expressionism (think of the video for "Otherside" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Chinese origami, and Japanese puppet theatre (bunraku is actually the name for a centuries-old form of Japanese theatre). It all adds up to something I've never quite seen before.

The acting was mostly good. The style lent itself to going over-the-top, and Ron Perlman, Woody Harrelson, and Kevin McKidd nail it. The samurai played by Gackt might be the prettiest man I've ever seen, so much so that a few times I found myself thinking "is that a guy or a chick? it's gotta be a guy, right? but maybe..."    Josh Hartnett has never pulled me in, I've always considered him just a part of the scenery. In this case that style fits the 'mysterious drifter', the one who always has a stony visage and never reveals too much.

If you're going to make a movie that doesn't have a new or unique plot/storyline, you have to be able to do something visually to stand out. "Bunraku" has a visual style that will definitely stick in my memory, and is worth checking out.

On the [Celluloid Hero] scale, "Bunraku" gets an 8 out of 10.