Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bunraku Review: Warning - spoilers!

So I finally got my copy of Bunraku and was able to watch it. I've written a review and I have some GACKT screencaps. Just be aware this review will contain spoilers. So if you haven't seen the movie, but plan to, this is the time to stop reading.

To be completely honest, the only reason I really bought it was to support GACKT. I didn't hold much hope for the actual movie... especially after the panning it got from some critics. However, I must say I was surprised at how much I ended up enjoying this movie. That isn't to say it wasn't flawed, because this movie had a lot of flaws... however, none of the flaws were big enough to make me not enjoy the film.

Starting with the main characters -

The Drifter (Played by Josh Hartnett) was an interesting character. He has the strength of an ox, he could kill a man with a single punch. He wants to go after Nicola, also known as the woodcutter, but the reason is not known till the very end of the movie. He's a bit comical... for some reason he "smokes" fake cigarettes. its assumed that he is trying to stop smoking. however, whenever he has a chance, he will grab someone's cigar or cigarette and sniff it. He also appears to be afraid of heights. Especially in a scene where he had to use a trapeze to fight a bad guy. He is the kind of character you'd see in a comic. He is a man of a few words, and is fast with his hands. He uses this speed to win a card game with Nicola... Nicola isn't actually there, he is watching everything from his headquarters on a large screen, those in attendance can only see him on a screen as well. As much as they can at least, as he is hiding his face with his giant hat. He had someone physically at the game in his stead. The drifter basically wins everything, but he gives the money he won back, except for what he 'borrows' in order to enter the game. He states he didn't feel it was fair to take the money, that if he were going to take the money, he would want it to be face to face. this was a sly way of challenging Nicola to what would ultimately be the final battle. Josh Hartnett was excellent in the role. He looked the part, felt the part, and brought a sense of realism to the character.

Yoshi (Played by GACKT). When we first see Yoshi, he is at his Uncle's restaurant talking to his Uncle and cousin about wanting to find Nicola and the 'red suit' army (called that because they all wear red suits) to try to get back a gold medallion that was stolen from his father. It is his father's dying wish. He even brought money to buy it back, although his uncle warns him, these people are not the type to just hand something over.  right on cue, Yoshi gets into his first fight. It was hilarious watching Yoshi fight the pain of eating a mouthful of wasabi sauce just to intimidate the red suits who entered the restaurant. (If you've ever eaten wasabi paste... a small dab will burn your nose hairs off.) Of course he destroys the restaurant in the fight... and is immediately kicked out by his uncle. Yoshi is an honorable villager who just wants to do the right thing. It is eluded to by his uncle that his father, while an honorable man who also believed in doing the right thing, may have used violence as a solution to problems, which his uncle did not like and was wary that Yoshi may follow the same path (which he claims ultimately leads to destruction)... Yoshi did not want to follow this way, however, he is pulled into it on more than one occasion. I have to say, for his first "Hollywood" debut... GACKT did an AMAZING job. You forget he's a Japanese musician because he's such a brilliant actor. I can't see anyone else in this role... and I'm not just saying this as his fan. My brother saw the movie, and doesn't even know who he is, and said he was excellent in the role.

The Bartender (Played by Woody Harrelson) is like an anti-hero type hero. He sets things up, gets the characters in place, and pushes Yoshi and the Drifter to work together to defeat Nicola, a seemingly untouchable bad guy. Many have tried to overthrow him before, no one has ever even gotten passed his assassins. The Bartender knows someone will eventually come forward and take him down, and he knows it will be The Drifter and Yoshi, so he sets it up for them to come together to defeat the common enemy. He basically, in a very sly way, gets the two to beat the crap out of each other, knowing Yoshi and the Drifter are equally matched... hoping that would bring equal respect. At first it doesn't seem as if they'll get along, but when Yoshi is captured, the bartender knowingly tells the Drifter, knowing the Drifter will break him out. And after "borrowing" his money, and returning it, the two finally team up to defeat Nicola. He is one of the true heroes because he is the one who sets those two in motion and gets them to where they need to be to defeat Nicola... even putting himself in danger to help get them to where they need to be. He even claims he's not a hero nor does he want to be... but really, that's what he is. (which is why I called him the anti-hero, hero. the kind who claims not to be a hero, when he really is.) What I liked about Woody Harrelson's acting is that he had this twinkle in his eye. This knowing look. A look of wisdom that just made the bartender a great character.

Nicola (Played by Ron Perlmann) is a character who had so much potential, and a great actor to bring him to life... yet the writers kind of failed him. *spoilers here* Nicola is suppose to be the strongest character of the movie. Kind of like the last boss you'd have to defeat in the video game. As hard as the other baddies are to beat in a game... they are generally nothing compared to the final boss. He is at the top of totem pole. Even the most brutal and feared assassin in his red suit army, killer #2, is nothing compared to him. Killer #2 would not dare go against Nicola. Nicola is in love with Alexandra, his concubine (for lack of a better word), and wants to marry her and have her bare him an heir. he also dreams of coming face to face with a worthy opponent. Someone equal to him in strength. even if he dies, he will die as he wanted: In battle. he even tells the Drifter when they come face to face, right before he attempts to kill him... he says something like (And this is a loose quote, can't remember the exact quote)... "no matter how strong you are, there is always someone stronger than you. the only problem is where is he when you need him?" after he says this, the Drifter totally pwns him, and as Nicola lays dying, the drifter says "The man who told you that... was my father." (and thus we know why he set out to kill Nicola. Vengeance for his father.) The biggest flaw with Nicola was that, for someone so strong, he really didn't do anything. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, we rarely saw him. And he was so easy to defeat. he was tricked in a 'let down your guard' moment... a moment where he thought he had the upper hand... and he was surprised by the Drifter who attacked him with stealth. It was so quick and he went down so easily for being, again, what could be likened to the final boss of a video game. The writers could have done so much more with that end fight. It wasn't really a fight. The Drifter gets stabbed with an axe in the shoulder, then uses one of Yoshi's arrows to kill Nicola. It was that simple. Yoshi had a much harder time of it with killer #2. That being said... Ron Perlmann did a great job, despite not being given the proper storyline he and the character deserved.

Alexandra (Played by Demi Moore) is Nicola's concubine. (again for lack of a better word). She doesn't seem to be a willing love interest for Nicola, by the remark that her wish would be to love him "as a FREE woman", underscoring the fact that she was his property, and not there of her own free will. this is another character that was not used to her potential. Through a comic book style drawing, we find out that she had a lover who was badly injured by Nicola and his men, and she threw herself between them and him and offered herself if they would spare his life. Which is how she became Nicola's girl. *Spoiler here* We learn very quickly that the man she gave herself to protect was the Bartender. However, minus a brief meeting before her assumed death in a fire... nothing ever comes of that storyline. It's almost like: Why bother then? Alexandra also had a relatively small part in the movie, considering the big named actress portraying her. Again, missed opportunity for a great additional storyline.

Killer #2 (Played by Kevin McKidd) Since Nicola's strength was only assumed in the movie as he never actually got involved in many fights... Killer #2 (or Assassin #2) was arguably the strongest character in the movie next to the Drifter and Yoshi. He was the leader of Nicola's red suit army. there were 9 top killers, in order of their strength. he was #2 because there was no one who could match his strength and skill other than Nicola (who is considered #1 obviously). He is ruthless. His turning point is his final battle with Yoshi. This is what a real battle should be. Not just a, "You hit me so I hit you back" one punch fight... this was an all out brawl between honor and evil, good and bad, and it was anyone's guess who would win. *Spoiler here* Yoshi gets badly beaten up. He gets one good stab at Killer #2, but only manages to cut his suit jacket. He, on the other hand, gets run through by Killer #2's sword. So things looked really bleak at that point... however, like all bad guys usually do,  you have the proverbial "let down your guard when you think you have the upper hand" moment, and Yoshi uses that moment to defeat #2. Although #2 isn't going down without a fight. Even after Yoshi runs him through with his blade and sticks him to a tree... he tries to kill Yoshi with his last breath.

All in all, the movie was fantastic. Lots of action, lots of well choreographed fight scenes, some very interesting characters, and of course it has a good ending. *Spoilers here* Yoshi and the Drifter both survive obviously. Yoshi gets his father's medallion back from Nicola, and the Drifter avenges his father... and for the first time, he gives in and smokes a real cigarette. Yoshi's uncle was killed by #2 earlier in the film... leaving his cousin an orphan. Instead of going with Yoshi, she decides to stay with the Bartender who is opening a bar that also serves sushi and saki. Yoshi and the Drifter say goodbye to them, and each other, eluding to the fact they'll probably all meet again. And with a handshake, the movie is over.

Again, as much as I loved this movie, there were flaws. Nicola not displaying his fearsome strength more often... and when the final fight occurs, when it's his big chance to really have a battle... he gets taken down pretty easily. Obviously you want the good guy to win... but at the same time, you'd like him to win after a good fight. With a great actor like Ron Perlmann, they could have done so much more. And again, Alexandra not being utilized better than she was. Demi Moore is a great actress, and the character had a great storyline potential when we found out her true love was the Bartender.

some parts were also quite campy, especially in the beginning. The first time the red suit army enters there's this little sing songy "RED SUUUUUITS" that just made your eyes roll.

The first 15 minutes were a little confusing. The character and plot development took a little longer than it should have. Before you finally understood all that was going on... the movie was already well under way.

That being said... again... this was a great movie that gets better each time you watch it. I can see this being another fan made classic like Sin City.

I give it a solid A.

(Click on the screencaps for bigger pics. Please do not re-use without giving credit to this blog. ... Thanks)

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