Main cast: Josh Hartnett (Drifter), Woody Harrelson (Bartender), Gackt (Yoshi), Kevin McKidd (Killer No 2), Demi Moore (Alexandra), Jordi Mollà (Valentine), Emily Kaiho (Momoko), Shun Sugata (Uncle), and Ron Perlman (Nicola the Woodcutter)
Director: Guy Moshe
After the world was ravaged by a global war that nearly destroyed everything, humanity decided to outlaw the use of guns. But people will always be people, so it’s eventually back to killing each other with knives, sticks, and, if needed, fists.
In this world, we have Nicola the Woodcutter, considered by many to be the most powerful man east of the Atlantic Ocean. His loyal assassin and second-in-command is called, simply, Killer Number 2. Together, they have kept an iron grip on their territory, until one day, when two strangers disembark from the train. The Drifter is the standard quiet and mysterious gambler with unexplained martial arts, while Yoshi pretty much telegraphs from his first scene that he’s that Japanese samurai guy archetype.
Yoshi drops by to visit his Uncle and cousin Momoko, while the Drifter just wants to play cards. In truth, both men want the medallion worn by the Woodcutter. Will they ever do the sensible thing and collaborate for the common cause? Why are they after the medallion anyway?
Bunraku refers to a form of Japanese puppet theater, and indeed, this film was shot on stage, using props and lighting to give as much “the audience is watching this from a seat around the stage” feel as possible. As for the story, it is a frantic circus of sorts, combining campy spaghetti Western tropes with that of Japanese samurai stories.
The characters are all one-dimensional types, and Demi Moore’s role as Nicola’s unhappy mistress is practically a glorified cameo appearance. But expecting depths in this movie would be walking into a McDonald’s outlet and demanding a five-course Korean cuisine. The thing is, there is very little here to compensate for the surplus of flash over substance. On one hand, Kevin McKidd and Gackt manage to steal some scenes, mostly by being too cool for words, but on the other hand, the other members of the cast are mostly just being there in the movie.
While the pace of the movie is rightfully on full speed at all times, the fight scenes are surprisingly average, and there are moments when the choreography of the fight scenes can be incoherent. Additionally, the frequent efforts to sound cool and edgy in the form of wisecrack lines come off often as, at best, clichéd, or, at worst, ludicrous.
Bunraku is a movie that could have been dazzling, fantastic, or original. Instead, it is a tired and weakly-drawn same old story wrapped in a shiny package. Take away the packaging, and there is little here that is satisfying.