Set in a future with no guns, a samurai with no sword and a cowboy drifter end up in a fight against the most powerful man east of the Atlantic. A very stylised film with animated interludes and origami style backdrops. Similar in feel to films like Sin City and Sucker Punch. There is a lot of fighting and it is very loud (not as loud as Sucker Punch though, nothing is that loud!)
As with many films of this type, the motivations behind the characters actions are secondary to the actions themselves and in this film the actions are mainly fighting. All of the main characters have a beef with Nicola the Woodcutter but these are really only sketched in, one has lost a family heirloom, another a girl and another possibly his father, hundreds of others have lost their freedom. Really though, all these concerns are only a backdrop to provide an excuse for the swaggering and the verbal sparring and of course the copious physical fighting.
The action in this film is often cartoonish and over the top in style it isn’t gritty and gory like a lot of films and also doesn’t go in for the Matrix style running up walls set pieces. You won’t often find yourself wondering how did he do that or whether a particular shot was real or done with wires etc. Rather the action follows the rest of the style of the film and fits in nicely. Ong Bak and The Raid have similar levels of continuous fighting but try for a more realistic presentation rather than the stylisied fantasy of this film.
This can get a bit tiresome after a while and I’m sure that this film will not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, the whole thing is made with such style that it is a joy to watch as long as you don’t mind spending a large amount of the 2 hour run time watching people punching and stabbing other people. In between the fights though you get treated to some animated flashbacks, puppetry and scene changes that involve buildings folding up and re-folding into completely different buildings. Stylistically I’ve never seen anything quite like it despite the similarities to other films mentioned above.
Unfortunately, unlike Sucker Punch and Sin City mentioned above, this film is completely devoid of strong female characters. There are really only 2 female characters in the whole film and one is never really anything other than a damsel in distress while the other is simultaneously a damsel in distress and a whore with a heart of gold. Neither really get to do anything that isn’t strictly within the limits of these stereotypes.
Unusually for films I have been watching recently, this is a film where I understand the choice of title. Bunraku is a form of traditional Japanese theatre using puppets with the puppeteers on-stage but dresses in black so that they fade into the background.
This title therefore can refer literally to the puppet sequences in the film but also to the repeated references to all actions being governed by an overriding fate and “everything going in circles”.