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Film / Bunraku

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A civilized weapon for uncivilized times.

Bunraku is a bizarre 2010 film, described as a "computer-animated live-action fantasy" that revolves around a No Name Given stock character who goes around fighting crime and taking names. Directed by Guy Moshe, the title of the film is based on a 400-year-old form of Japanese puppet theater.

The plot is as follows: In a post-apocalyptic future, a mysterious drifter (Josh Hartnett) and the ardent young samurai Yoshi (GACKT) both arrive in a town terrorized by outrageous and virulent criminals. Each is obsessed with his separate mission and, guided by the wisdom of The Bartender (Woody Harrelson) at the Horseless Horseman Saloon, the two eventually join forces to bring down the corrupt and contemptuous reign of Nicola (Ron Perlman), the awesomely evil "woodcutter", and his mistress Alexandra (Demi Moore), a Femme Fatale with a secret past. Heroes triumph here only because the force of their will transforms and transcends both space and time.

Bunraku provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Nicola is actually a pretty nice guy when he wants to be, quite happy to chat and play poker with his potential victims.
  • After the End: The movie is set some time after a nuclear war.
  • Always Someone Better: The Drifter's philosophy is that nobody can stay on top forever — sooner or later someone stronger is bound to come along. He learned this from his father, who said the same thing to Nicola before Nicola killed him.
  • Anachronism Stew: It's pretty much Jidaigeki meets The Wild West and The Great Depression. Fashions meanwhile seem to have gotten stuck in The '40s at best.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The movie ends with Drifter and Yoshi riding off to future adventures.
  • Anti-Hero: The Drifter is a classic of the Jerk with a Heart of Gold tradition. Apparently his mother raised him that way.
    "Hold your head up high, keep your eyes on the prize. Never let your guard down; the world is filled with bad people. If you play your cards right, you'll always be quicker on the draw. Lonesome... but alive nonetheless," she said every night, before putting him to sleep. And he listened.
  • Bad Boss: Killer #2 kills his own men left and right.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Killer #2 is always impeccably dressed. His minions and some of the other killers also wear nice suits.
  • Balance Between Good and Evil: Its existence is why the Bartender believes there is always hope.
  • Bar Brawl: Both the Drifter and Yoshi get involved in these at the Horseless Horseman. By the time they wanna fight each other, the Bartender tells them to take it outside.
  • The Bartender: The Bartender. In fact, the Drifter at one point calls him barkeep.
  • Bathe Her and Bring Her to Me: Killer #2 tells the prostitutes to get Momoko ready for him later that night. Alexandra is also bathed before being sent back to Nicola.
  • Batter Up!: Bartender takes on a whole army of goons wielding only a baseball bat.
  • Battle in the Rain: The Drifter and Yoshi have round two of their fight in a rainstorm.
  • Chase Scene: With both cars and motorcycles.
  • Character Tics: The Drifter touching the brim of his fedora to the cue of the sound of a revolver's chamber spinning.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Before the showdown that begins the film, the Narrator points out several scouts from the Proletarian League of Defense watching from the rooftops. They are promptly forgotten until late in the film when the Bartender brings Yoshi and the Drifter to the League to recruit them for the climactic attack on Nicola's training camp.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Nicola. He even lampshades it.
    Nicola: "You want to kill a man like me, you better stab me in the back. That's the catch. See, honorable men, they die hard. But they still die. It's men like me that survive and conquer."
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: The film features a rare inversion when the Drifter is attacked by about 50 mooks and is getting overwhelmed before Yoshi shows up and evens the odds.
  • Cool Old Guy: Uncle takes on eight guys with only a pair of kitchen knives.
  • Cool Shades: Killer #2 switches out pince-nez of different colors.
  • Cue the Sun: The film ends with a Japanese sunrise.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Which is human nature, as far as the narrator is concerned.
    Narrator: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, will forever make better grammatical balance than turning the other cheek.”
  • Damsel in Distress: Momoko for most of the second half.
  • Dance Battler:
    • Tap-dancing Killer #2 pulls this off nicely at one point fighting with his back towards the enemy. His movements were based on Fred Astaire.
    • The Killer No.6 utilizes Capoeira as his fighting style. He is played by an actual capoerista.
  • Death Seeker
    Nicola: "There's a part of me that's hoping they pass through the camp and kill you all, and that there's no one left for them to fight but me. And if I die, it'll be how I always imagined. In battle, while I'm still craving life."
  • Defeat Means Friendship: The Bartender wants Yoshi and the Drifter to team up and take down Nicola and the Killers. So he lets them beat the crap out of each other. Outside.
  • Determinator: The Drifter and Yoshi. It takes a lot of damage to put these two down, and even then they'll get back up and keep going.
  • Double Entendre: When Killer #2 has Momoko in his grasp, he talks suggestively about a ginseng tree that's given him a "hard idea". Traditionally ginseng has been used as an aphrodisiac.
  • The Dragon: Killer #2, who's even referred to as this by the narrator.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Nicola points out Killer #2 clearly wants to replace him, but doesn't have the courage to.
  • The Drifter: Take a guess.
  • Dual Wielding: Killer #4 wields a pair of Chinese broadswords which Yoshi later takes. Uncle wields a pair of kitchen knives when Killer #2 and his mooks come to question him and Momoko about Yoshi. Some random fighters in the final fight between the Defense League and the Red Shirts dual wield various combinations of blades.
  • Due to the Dead: Yoshi makes a point of closing Killer #4's eyes.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Heavily implied to be down to the Nuclear Option, the world was wrecked but not completely destroyed, and civilisation had to rebuild itself.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Despite being violent and bloodthirsty himself, Nicola still disapproves of Killer #2 showing off his box of dismembered fingers in front of Alexandra.
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: Yoshi mainly, plus Killer #5. There's Japanese culture everywhere, and bushido is mentioned a couple of times.
  • Evil Brit: Killer Number #2.
  • Evil Counterpart: The Drifter and Yoshi meet killers with mirroring fighting styles, attitude and clohing in the final battle.
  • Evil Gloating: Killer #2 and Nicola both stop their No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to gloat at their victims. Nicola seems to be doing it on purpose. It proves to be fatal for both of them.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Ron Perlman as Nicola.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: You would be hard-pressed to find a character in this movie who doesn't know how to fight.
  • Evil Vegetarian: Killer #2 makes a point of noting he's vegetarian.
  • Eye Scream: Eddie covers his eyes in fear of this in one scene. His fear comes true when he stupidly reveals one of them and Killer #2 puts a knife in it. As threatened earlier.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Firearms were banned by the survivors in the hopes of reining in the violence that nearly wiped them out. It didn't quite work out as planned.
  • Femme Fatale: Alexandra. Nicola states that in a way she is more powerful than him.
  • Fingore: Killer #2 cuts the fingers off of the mooks he dispatches and presents them to Nicola in a cigar case.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Yoshi, The Driffter and The Bartender.
  • Forceful Kiss: Momoko bites Killer #2 when he attempts to plant one on her.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Yoshi says the Japanese equivalent of 'shit' when he realises he's surrounded in the bar. Unlike the rest of the Japanese in the film, it's not subtitled.
  • Freudian Trio: Yoshi is honorable to a fault in his heroism, The Drifter is coldly practical, while the Bartender strikes middle ground peacefully.
  • Funny Background Event: Killer #2 getting pampered during the poker scene.
  • Genre-Busting: Bunraku mixes aspects from dozens of genres. Including, but not limited to: Jidai Geki, Film Noir, Old West, Japanese puppet theater (one style of which it gets its name from) and Comic Books.
  • Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!: According to our narrator, the only worthwhile reason to die is for freedom.
  • Good Old Fisticuffs: The Drifter's preferred weapon. It's notable since everyone else uses acrobatic fighting styles but he proves to be one of the best fighters in the city while using standard punches. Even near the end when everyone is arming themselves with swords and such, he just takes a pair of brass knuckles.
  • Gory Discretion Shot:
    • When Valentine takes an axe to the face.
    • Also when Yoshi kills Killer #9 behind a paper screen, spattering it with blood.
  • Great Escape: The Drifter breaking Yoshi out of prison (video game style), all done in one single, badass take.
  • Handicapped Badass: Bartender has a pretty bad limp, but that doesn't stop him braining opponents left and right.
  • Honour Before Reason: The narrator considers this standard practice for the Japanese.
    "Life, every man holds dear; but the dear man holds honor far more precious than dear life... especially if that man happens to be Japanese."
  • Humans Kill Wantonly: The opening credits state this quite clearly, on the grounds that humans have "a perverse fascination with violence", coming up with "more ways of killing a man than making bread, or making love".
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Killer #2 ends up pinned to a tree.
  • Important Haircut: Nicola shaves his unruly beard in preparation for the Final Battle against The Drifter. And in a subtle Visual Pun, he does so with his bearded axe.
  • In the Back: The only way Nicola says he can be killed.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: The Drifter can kill a man with one punch, and it doesn't seem to affect his hands aside from one or two instances of him giving them a quick shake.
  • Jump Physics: The movie verges on Wire Fu at times.
  • Klingon Promotion: One of the ways for Killers to get promoted is to pick off someone higher up the totem pole.
  • La Résistance: The Proletarian League of Defense. The Drifter and Yoshi are a reluctant example; the Bartender prefers to call them 'Gang Busters'.
  • Lemony Narrator: It's Mike Patton, no less.
  • Let's You and Him Fight: The Drifter and Yoshi have a professional duel when they meet. They end up being pretty evenly matched.
  • Licking the Blade: Killer #2 licks some of Yoshi's blood off his sword in the finale.
  • Lonely at the Top: Nicola seems to be pretty bored and longs for a decent challenger to take him on.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Yoshi has a Samurai Ponytail.
  • MacGuffin: The dragon amulet Nicola stole from Yoshi's clan.
  • Man Bites Man: When one of the Killers has the Drifter in a grapple, he opts to simply bite him in order to force him to let go.
  • Medium Blending: The opening scene uses puppets controlled by people in black, like bunraku theatre. Scene changes have buildings and landscapes open like a pop-up book, and Alexandra's flashback is styled like a Roy Lichtenstein-esque Comic Book. Heck, even the sky is made of origami paper.
  • The Mentor: The Bartender to some extent, though rather than being old he's got a limp instead. He takes the heroes under his wing, sets them up and plays Mr. Exposition.
  • Meta Guy: The Bartender summarizes archetypes to a Tvtropes-level extent.
  • Mirror Match: Before they confront Nicola each hero faces off against an Evil Knockoff.
  • Mr. Fanservice: The two leads are played by Josh Hartnett and GACKT. This should tell you something.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Alexandra wears some revealing outfits, and has a bathing scene.
  • My Sister Is Off-Limits: Yoshi certainly looks less than happy when he sees his cousin Momoko smiling at the Drifter.
  • Neck Snap: Killer #7 attempts this on the Drifter. The Drifter later does it to a couple of Killers.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Almost everyone. Special mention to the punk rock motorcycle gangster acrobat clown assassins.
  • No Name Given: The Drifter, The Bartender, Uncle, and Killer #2 (though technically this goes for all the Killers, and even many of the lower level henchmen...the Chief of Police is introduced not once, but twice as just "The Chief of Police").
  • One-Man Army: Most of the main characters qualify.
  • The Piano Player: There in one at the Bartender's place, who originally is playing a soulful piece of music until the Bartender throws a piece of fruit at his head. After that, true to the Western form, he plays a jaunty ragtime, then runs out when it looks like the Drifter is going to start a brawl. Later on, he is replaced by a stereo and a sign: "Piano Player Wanted".
  • Plucky Girl: When her father is killed, Momoko attacks Killer #2 with her bare hands and even throws an (ineffective) roundhouse kick.
  • Quirky Miniboss Squad: The nine Killers, all of whom have their own gangs who share the same fighting (and fashion) styles. Killer #2 is the most prolific along with his Red Suits.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Alexandra.
  • Red Shirt Army: Literally in this case as the mooks supporting the Big Bad wear red suits.
  • Reluctant Hero: Neither of them are happy about getting involved, though Yoshi is initially a bit more willing than the Drifter.
  • Riding into the Sunset: Invoked. The Drifter laments that he can't seem to find a sunset to ride off into.
  • Rule of Cool: The film itself runs on this principle. What would you think about a film shot with paper decorates, Cirque du Soleil-esque choreographies and Ron Perlman playing a lumberjack who rules the world? Lampshaded by the Narrator.
  • Samurai Cowboy: It has samurai. It has cowboys. The Bartender and Momoko even end up serving sushi and sake at the Horseless Horseman.
  • Schizo Tech: The technology is confusing. Characters wield blunt weapons, but drive cars (car models from different decades, mind you), use telegraphs alongside phones, e.t.c
    • The technology only seems schizophrenic if you forget that they use these weapons because using a firearm carries a death sentence.
  • Scenery Porn: While extremely unrealistic, the cityscape is highly detailed and, in the movie itself, colourful too.
  • Shout-Out: The Drifter has a tattoo of American McGee's Cheshire Cat on his wrist. The tagline is also a reversal of a classic line of A New Hope ("an elegant weapon for a more civilized age").
    • When the Barkeep finally sees Alexandra again, she's too stunned and ashamed to move anywhere as the burning house collapses on her, which also happened in Seven Samurai.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Two samurai. Two katana. One strike. Awesome.
  • Smoking Is Cool: The Drifter is constantly sniffing cigars and cigarettes, but never smokes a real cigarette until the end of the film. The one that the bartender gives him is fake. It seems that he's denying himself the pleasure of smoking until after his vengeance is complete.
  • Sudden Video-Game Moment: The prison break and car chase scenes contain bleeps and chimes that sound like they were lifted from Pac-Man or Donkey Kong.
  • Super-Senses: Killer #2 is implied to have super-human hearing. Alexandra uses it against him.
  • Take Me Instead: Revealed to have been the reason why Alexandra became Nicola's woman in the first place. It was to save her lover's life. By the ending it's all but confirmed that the Bartender was said lover.
  • Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Yoshi during the wasabi scene.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Nicola's favorite move is simply throwing a handaxe at his opponents before they're even ready to fight.
  • Vice City: Nicola's town is described at the very outset as "God-forsaken". Crime and corruption are rife of course, with the main characters being mob bosses, drifters, mercenaries, Rōnin, prostitutes and assassins.
  • Violence is the Only Option
    The Bartender: "Life's not all about fighting."
    The Drifter: "Come on, you know that ain't true."
  • Warrior Poet: Nicola shows off a lot of poetic nature.
    • In true samurai fashion, Uncle's last words are a haiku about his daughter.
  • When All You Have Is a Hammer…: It's established very early on that the Drifter is good at punching people in the face. So getting enlisted to do battle against a cunning and vicious crime lord with a whole army at his command means he's going to be punching lots and lots of people in the face. It pretty much works.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: The Drifter has a fear of heights (which Josh Hartnett invented to make him seem more human), yet is forced to go Roof Hopping and fight while swinging on a trapeze.
  • Wicked Cultured: Nicola is quite a learned man.
  • World of Badass
  • Worthy Opponent: Yoshi and the Drifter play this to each other, treading the boundary between friends and rivals. It's implied that The Drifter's father was one for Nicola, and Nicola laments that The Drifter isn't as worthy as he had hoped when they finally fight.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: The Drifter uses a few clotheslines and spears Yoshi. He also delivers a couple of spinebusters to Yoshi, while Yoshi at one point retaliates with a sidewalk slam.
  • You Have Failed Me: Killer #2 regularly slits the throat of any Red Suit who fails him.
  • You Killed My Father: The Drifter's motivation for taking down Nicola. A similar case for Yoshi fighting Killer #2, except the victim was his uncle instead.