“Vengeance is all about style.” A BUNRAKU review


After I finish this post, I’m going to write an email to another author about writing style and naturalism, because when it comes to books, I like naturalism. Even if the setting has fantastical elements in it, I like the language to be precise and not-particularly-metaphorical. I have a distaste for the pathetic fallacy, for settings and characters that are deliberately artificial, and for flourishes that “pull me out of the story.”

But with film it’s different. With film, I enjoy those flourishes very much, thank you.

Which brings me to BUNRAKU (Trailer | Netflix) a martial arts movie starring Josh Hartnett and Gackt. It’s very, very art designed–about as naturalistic as a movie musical–in fact, the opening fight scene deliberately, consciously begins like a big dance scene, with rows of identically-dressed men side-stepping through an arch, and a major villain strutting into the fight like a murderous Gene Kelly.

If what you want from a movie is what a producer once called “suture” (that is, a white-knuckle involvement in the dilemma of the characters), this isn’t the film for you. All the art direction, set design, colored gels, wild costumes and animated intrusions has a distancing effect; it can’t be helped. When Josh Hartnett steps into a round elevator and, instead of going straight down, it rotates down to the side with the same click you’d hear from a giant revolver, the response is That is totally fucking cool and I want that for my Sin Mansion, but it also reminds you that this is a movie.

It’s theatrical. And I love it.

It’s not a perfect movie; there are a few choices I would have done differently. I wish it hadn’t been rated R, for instance. But the truth is, I don’t think I could have imagined a movie like this, let along make one.

Anyway, as my wife and I were watching it, she asked me how it did in the theaters. I said that I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think it had a theatrical release. “Of course not,” she answered. “It’s beautiful. People don’t care about beautiful movies any more.”

If you get a chance to watch it, you should.

“Bunraku”, by the way, is a kind of Japanese puppet theater. And the movie opens with an amazing puppet sequence.