A manic mishmash of tropes from video games, puppet theater, and comic books that unabashedly references Kurosawa, Tarantino, and Shaw Brothers, among others, Guy Moshe’s Bunraku nevertheless achieves a stagy purity—call it cheapness if you prefer—all its own. This post-apocalyptic noir western follows a pair of drifters (pretty boys Josh Hartnett and Gackt, a Japanese pop star) as they separately crash a town run by reclusive crime boss Nicola (Ron Perlman) with revenge in mind. The pair teams up via a helpful barkeep (Woody Harrelson), with assistance from Nicola’s concubine (Demi Moore—no way she’s pushing 50), and resistance from a natty assassin (Kevin McKidd). There are fight sequences galore, most rousing and all refreshingly gun-free, but the draggy bits in between accentuate the movie’s heavy-handed derivativeness; seriously, how many “re-imaginings” can Yojimbo realistically support? Insular and indulgent as it is, though, the movie is never less than a visual treat. Moshe makes the most of his tiny budget and set-bound milieu, and includes some nice touches (like comic strip panel subtitles) that evoke the pop-up-illustration books Harrelson’s character habitually constructs. Bunraku is far from a cinematic leap forward, but for a couple of hours, it does make “one-dimensional” something other than a pejorative.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 28, 2011