Bunraku

In Economics 101 you learn that there are two ways for a business to make a lot of money: you can sell a few big items at a high profit margin or you can sell a lot of little items at a low profit margin - either you try to be Mercedes or you try to be McDonalds. There aren't that many examples of businesses who manage to do both at the same time - it's basically impossible to sell a billion cars at a hundred thousand dollars apiece.

A similar lesson can be applied to filmmaking: you can pull ideas from a whole bunch of different genres, but if you do that then you need to have a consistent style that will bind them together. Or, you can have a grab bag style, as long as the story you're telling is pretty easy to grasp. Unfortunately, Bunraku doesn't want to do either of those things - it's story is a mishmash of tropes from vastly different genres and its told in an unnecessarily complex way, and it ends up being way too much to buy.

Let's tackle the story first: Bunraku takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where guns have been banned in an effort to temper humanity's barbaric urges. Unfortunately, people are still killing each other with swords. The entire story is set in a fictional town that's run by a reclusive warlord called Nicola (aka the Woodcutter), and he uses an army of assassins who dress like dandies to keep everyone in line. Chafing against Nicola's rule are a family of samurai, a tight lipped bartender who is straight out of a classic noir, a Wild West card shark, and even at one point an angry gang of Russian serfs. Basically, the film's characters come from every time period and every place.

If that sounds like a lot, then strap in, because Bunraku's style is similarly hectic. The film opens with a montage that blends paper animation with cartoon animation, and the film doesn't relent from there. Bunraku's visual design is a random hodge podge of styles: it blends together overly stylized plywood sets in the manner of German Expressionism, green screen chase scenes, comic book panel transitions, and classic Hong Kong style kung-fu fights. (Well, the choreography is Hong Kong inspired - I can't say that many classic kung fu films pitted a guy in a sharply tailored checkered suit against an Old West gunslinger in an empty circus tent.)

Then on top of that is a layer of narration which is full of inscrutable fake aphorisms like "Life, every man holds dear. But the dear man holds honor far more precious than dear life. Especially if that man happens to be Japanese."

Basically, this film is a hot mess.

A hot mess, yes, but a promising hot mess. This is an odd association to make, but last night I was watching Magic Mike, and there's a scene where a kid who has never danced before is forced to get on the stage and strip for a crowd of drunk women. His performance is basically a trainwreck, too fast and too slow and ungraceful all at the same time - but he doesn't let the audience eat him alive. It wasn't good, but it was enough to convince the strip club's manager to give the kid another try; once you have fearlessness down pat, learning to dance is easy.

That's how I felt about Bunraku's director Guy Moshe. I don't really think you can teach a person to have visual flair, and I don't think you can teach a person to have big ideas. But I do think you can teach a person how to edit their stories into manageable pieces. Guy Moshe has the hard parts down - he was able to mimic a lot of really complicated styles effectively. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to know how to put all the parts together. But that can be learned with experience.

I can't say that I enjoyed Bunraku - but I still saw enough potential in this film that I would give another Guy Moshe film a try. No good is going to come out of mating Mercedes and McDonalds, but if you could take someone that's crazy enough to try and get them to scale down their ambitions - well, you might just get a hell of a product.

Winner: The Cat

Bunraku on IMDB