In a world where guns are banned, the evil Woodcutter (Ron Perlman) rules a town with an axe as big as himself. Aided by his dapper henchman, Killer No. 2 (a fabulous Fred Astaire-like Kevin McKidd), and his red-suited minions, they think they’re invincible. But they’ve reckoned without the arrival of The Drifter (Josh Hartnett) out for revenge, and Yoshi (Gackt) a samurai with no sword who arrive on the same train. The Bartender (Woody Harrelson) has his own reasons for helping them. Cue laconic one liners, creatively colourful visuals and fight scenes to set the world alight.
Director Guy Moshe’s fantasy is a low budget independent production that was shelved for three years while it found a distributor. But the invention, wit and escapism on show knocks bigger-budget CGI follies into touch. Hartnett is suitably rugged as the Drifter, a man with no name and whose drawly delivery of cheeky one-liners has a hint of Clint. But it’s Gackt who impresses.
Massive back home in Japan, Gackt’s a singer, a multi-instrument musician, an actor and a producer. He’s also a martial artist, trained in taekwondo and a perfectionist to boot. No wonder the full-on fight scenes reek of reality. Credit to Moshe for giving Gackt a break. Having seen him in Japan TV’s samurai epic Furin Kazan and noted his onstage rock concert antics, riding full pelt into the arena on horseback, he recognised Gackt’s devil-may-care charisma.
And Moshe’s pop-up landscapes are refreshingly original. Kicking off with Brazilian animator Guilherme Macondes’ inspired credits sequence, charting man’s self-destructiveness, there’s no CGI, just creatively shot origami-esque visuals. Hints of computer-games crop up notably in a top-to-bottom fight scene, Hartnett decking the bad guys as he infiltrates the floors of a building.
Car chases – like no other – and multiple fight scenes populate Bunraku with a peppery, wasabi-hot edge. But there’s no need for Sin City’s icky grunge. This is a western set in a fantasy world where the good guys and bad guys are clearly delineated – even if Moshe’s tale keeps things unpredictable.
A blink-and-miss-it triumph, Bunraku is well worth catching on DVD. Proof that with all the budget in the world, sometimes all you need is a good idea, some folded paper, clever choreography and curveball casting.