This movie is set "east of the Atlantic," sometime in the future, after a catastrophic war prompted the outlawing of all guns. Of course, just because guns have been outlawed doesn't mean that people don't continue to kill each other with knives, hatchets, swords, arrows, their fists, and whatever else they can think of.
A Drifter (Josh Hartnett) arrives in a town ruled by Nicola the Woodsman (Ron Perlman) and his nine Killers. The Drifter wants to get revenge against Nicola for having killed his father, but first he has to get close enough - hard to do, considering that most people never meet Nicola in person.
At around the same time the Drifter arrives, so does a samurai named Yoshi (Gackt), who wants to find the gold dragon medallion that was his father's dying request. Yoshi's uncle is against his quest, because he thinks it will result in Yoshi becoming the same horrible kind of person his father was, but Yoshi is determined. Yoshi's quest causes him to cross paths with the Drifter, and eventually they team up together to go after Nicola, who, as it turns out, has the gold medallion. There's also a bit of a sidestory involving Nicola's girlfriend/favorite whore (Demi Moore), who used to be the girlfriend of the Bartender (Woody Harrelson) who knows both Yoshi and the Drifter.
This movie...oh dear. Well, at least I can say I wasn't expecting much when I popped it into my DVD player.
I didn't buy this movie for the best of reasons. Basically, all it took for me to ignore the voice in my head that said this was going to be terrible was seeing one name in the cast lineup: Gackt. For those of you who don't know who Gackt is, he's primarily a singer. He used to be in a band called Malice Mizer, has had a solo career for a while, and has done some acting. I don't own any of his CDs and don't consider myself a huge Gackt fangirl, but it looks like I can't resist buying his movies. A note for Gackt fans out there: he speaks both Japanese and English in this movie, he has long hair worn in a ponytail, and he fights with various weapons, including a sword and bow and arrow. One or more of these things should cue a fangirl squeal of approval.
One of the few reasons I'd recommend getting this movie is if you absolutely must own/watch everything featuring one of the actors or actresses in it. I recognized almost all the people playing the more sizable parts, so, while I got this movie because of Gackt, I could definitely see others getting it because of Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Kevin McKidd, Ron Perlman, or Demi Moore.
- Josh Hartnett looks like a film noir refugee and brawls like he's in a Western. At one point, he's given brass knuckles as a weapon (I'm not sure I actually saw him using them, though), and I think he shared a Look with Momoko, Yoshi's cousin – other than the bits about Demi Moore's character's past, that's the closest the movie gets to romance.
- Woody Harrelson spends a lot of time reacting to other people fighting. When he's not doing that, he's tending his bar and working on his hobby, creating pop-up books.
- Kevin McKidd is a cold-blooded killer who looks like he's trying to channel Fred Astaire when he fights.
- Ron Perlman has dreadlocks, a fancy card game setup that I'm guessing is supposed to help him cheat when he gambles (not that this kept Josh Hartnett's Drifter character from winning every time), and a hatchet. He does his best to work the whole “bored, getting-on-in-years-but-still-deadly villain” thing.
- Demi Moore...well, her part isn't very big, mostly limited to sneering and spitting.
I'm stretching, though, because, overall, I really can't recommend this movie.
At the very least, I expected lots of good fight scenes. There were lots of fight scenes, but, for the most part, they weren't very good. Some of them had good moments, and I think Josh Hartnett and Gackt worked the coolness factor in their fight scenes as much as possible, but the fights weren't nearly as awesome as I had hoped. During a fight between Yoshi and a swordsmen, I started to get annoyed as the camera kept cutting to Bartender reaction shots. It reminded me of the Quidditch match in the first Harry Potter movie, when, instead of focusing entirely on the Quidditch action, the camera kept cutting to cheesy Harry Potter reaction shots. The impression I got was that the fight between Yoshi and the swordsman was kind of lame, so the director tried to hide that by breaking it up with reaction shots. In some of the other fight scenes, I think I even caught some of the fakery that goes into making it look like one person hit another. I just couldn't bring myself to believe the fights, which made it hard to worry about the outcomes.
From the small amount of the commentary I was able to listen to, I think the director was going for a movie that didn't take itself too seriously and would be a good bit of fun for its viewers. The fake-looking scenery was meant to look fake – the whole thing was supposed to look a bit like the set of a musical. Unfortunately, no matter what the director was actually going for, the result fell flat for me. I did guess that the movie was trying not to take itself too seriously, but that didn't mean I found what I was seeing to be funny. The actors and actresses tried very hard to put emotion into their performances, but the confusing, somewhat awkward script didn't give them a lot to work with.
There were lines that I think were supposed to come across as funny, but instead just sounded...bad. This was one of those movies that was just too much when taken all together. Part of me thinks that certain scenes would have been funnier if the setting hadn't been so strangely artificial, because I wouldn't have had to process that, try to remember what was going on, and find something funny at the same time.
The script felt like it was composed mostly of cliched lines from a bunch of different movies, and those lines didn't always make sense in the context of this movie. For instance, I had problems wrapping my brain around Yoshi asking the Drifter “What's in it for me?”, when he should have been asking “And how do I know that you'll really pay me back the money you just asked me for? After all, we just met.” The Drifter had just told Yoshi that he'd get his money back, with interest. It wasn't necessary to ask “What's in it for me?” I spent time wondering at the stupidity of his question when I should have been focused on the sudden gratuitous fight between Yoshi and the Drifter. It was as distracting as the repeated cuts to Bartender reaction shots during Yoshi's fight with the swordsman.
Unless you plan on stopping the movie after the initial animated sequence, the only reason I'd get this is if you have a burning desire to watch/own everything featuring one of the people acting in it. Otherwise, you're better off passing this one by.
There are no subtitles. I checked, because I could have used them during some of the scenes involving Killer No. 2.
There are only two extras: a theatrical trailer for the movie and commentary by the director (Guy Moshe) and Kevin McKidd (he played Killer No. 2). I only got maybe 15 or 20 minutes into the commentary before I had to quit - I got tired of the director's comments about how some people got what they were trying to do with the movie and some people didn't. I have a feeling that, whenever reception of the movie was less than stellar (which I gather was most of the time, since the general ratings I've seen haven't been good), the director chose to blame it on people not "getting" it. Here's a tip: if the majority of viewers don't seem to understand what you're trying to do, you're not doing a good job.
- Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (live action movie) - This movie does what I think Bunraku was trying to do - parody certain aspects of other things (video games, for instance), not take itself too seriously, be funny, and have a few good fight scenes mixed in.
- Firefly (live action TV series) - If you'd like something else that mixes Westerns (and also science fiction) with Asian influences, you might want to try this.
- Princess Raccoon (live action movie) - The play-like look of some of Bunraku's scenes made me think of Princess Raccoon, which features some beautiful sets that would be perfectly at home (and probably applauded) on a stage. It has a lighter overall feel than Bunraku. I have written about this movie.
- Samurai Jack (non-Japanese animation) - The setting in Bunraku reminded me a lot of Samurai Jack, but there are other similarities (except that I enjoyed Samurai Jack a lot more). Samurai Jack is about a samurai who has been propelled into the future and must find a way back to the past so that he can defeat the evil wizard Aku. In the future, Aku rules everything, and Jack often finds himself helping people who are being hurt or oppressed by Aku's minions.
- Sin City (live action movie) - To be honest, I haven't seen this and don't plan to. It always struck me as a little too dark for my tastes, and I gather that it's a lot darker than Bunraku. However, I've seen in referenced in comments about Bunraku, so there are apparently similarities.
- Kill Bill (live action movie) - Okay, so this is another one I have seen, but at least I've seen parts of it, and I thought of those parts as I was watching Bunraku. Nicola's Killers made me think of the assassins the Bride faces.