Since debuting at the Toronto Film Festival last year, Guy Moshe’s indie actioner Bunraku, set entirely in an origami universe, has garnered festival plaudits around the world. Featuring Josh Hartnett, Ron Perlman, Demi Moore and Japanese star Gackt, it’s a hot prospect which nonetheless has lain all too dormant since it was shot in 2008. With a worldwide cinema release eluding it, this Sin City style curio is about to unfold on DVD, its UK release scheduled for 3 October.
‘A cowboy in a world without guns, and a samurai with no sword, team up to defeat a common evil’, intones Woody Harrelson’s bartender. And so a drifter (Hartnett) and the samurai (GACKT) take on the underworld kingpin Nicola (Perlman) and his gang of assassins led by Killer 2 (Kevin McKidd). Set in an ultra-stylized world of fold-out landscapes, Bunraku promises a heady mix of martial arts, cool lines and crazy visuals.
Taking its title from the centuries-long tradition of Japanese puppet-theatre, the film likewise creates an artificial world where deeds and destinies meet. Alex McDowell, the go-to guy for immersive production design, has clearly worked wonders here. Having created worlds for Spielberg (Minority Report, The Terminal), Tim Burton (The Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr Fox), he brought cachet and, no doubt, cash to the production.
Bunraku’s benchmark is bound to be Sin City, as it was for Zack Snyder’s 300 and Watchmen, the latter of which McDowell also designed. It no doubt created thematic and technical expectations for Bunraku. But Moshe’s feature seems to be attempting something different: a unique world, recognisably its own, yet mining the hero-revenge traditions of westerns, samurai films and martial arts movies.
But even with quality casting, a kinetic and highly visual story and a strong production pedigree, still Bunraku found it hard to hit the big screen. With no publicity machine, its only buzz came from the actors’ own blogs, festival chatter and internet word of mouth. Only one major UK film magazine trailed it and that was way back in 2010.
Cowboys and samurai clearly need bigger bucks to shoulder aside the likes of Cowboys and Aliens and other bank-rolled blockbusters. But, who knows, Bunraku may still find a home in yours.