A mega mash-up in the vein of Sucker Punch, Bunraku jumbles together elements with a self-consciousness that’s as turgid as its story proper. Writer-director Guy Moshe’s crime saga is a work of second-generation derivation, weaving together scraps from homages to Westerns, film noir, samurai films, gangster pics, and class-warfare dramas—or, to put it in this effort’s own celluloid lingo, it’s the offspring of Sukiyaki Western Django, Sin City, and Cool World, a hyper-stylized hodgepodge of retro-cool tropes that serve no purpose except to remind one of better predecessors.
When Josh Hartnett’s nameless pseudo-cowboy Drifter states, “I’m the product of a fucked-up generation,” he may as well be speaking about the film itself, which feigns real emotion, intricate plotting, and wink-wink cleverness while, in truth, valuing nothing but its own aesthetic flair. Abstractly combining disparate ingredients is a please-them-all objective too haphazard to satisfy, with its blend of paper-cut-out animation, zooms across pop-up-book CG landscapes, and brightly colored geometrically cartoonish architecture screaming “Look at me!” even as its narrative— about Drifter and samurai Yoshi’s (Gackt) attempts to take down mysterious crime boss Nicola, a.k.a. the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman)—is so dramatically inert that it practically begs to be ignored.
Drifter and Yoshi’s unlikely tag-team plans eventually involve the assistance of Bartender (Woody Harrelson), while Nicola’s henchman Killer #2 (Kevin McKidd) slices anyone in his path and sneers—and is equally sneered back at by—Nicola’s kept woman, Alexandra (Demi Moore). These characters are merely transparent archetypes in search of a purpose, and their various dealings are so pointless that Bunraku‘s twists and conflicts soon bleed together into a nonsensical jumble. To jazz up this tale, endless gimmickry is indulged (a side-scrolling or top-down-driving sequence set to video-game bleeps and blips, spinning signs appearing from nowhere to introduce Nicola’s nine henchman), but the effect is simply assaultive.
Whereas Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City used its over-the-topness to push noir to its extreme breaking point, Moshe’s approach is of a grab-bag variety, cherry-picking whatever cinematic components have the greatest verve and then vainly synthesizing them into some larger Frankenstein entity. From its plethora of ho-humly staged battles—at a circus dimly spelled Cirkus, or in a Kill Bill-style Japanese flower garden—to its many sluggish faux-profound conversations and overarching affectation, the film proves the limits of movies-about-movies referentiality, not to mention, more baffling still, a fondness for racism with its recurring description of Yoshi as “Oriental.”