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BUNRAKU takes the combined talents of Josh Hartnett, Woody Harrelson, Demi Moore and Ron Perlman and places them in an utterly insane universe where cowboys clash with samurai warriors and megalomaniacal despots in a hyper-real, hyper-stylised environment.

The name comes from an ancient from of Japanese puppet theatre, and at times the movie feels like a stage-play on film, the back-drops popping up and down, the camera zooming in and out origami-like wonderlands.

Yet in spite of the film's technical achievements, it fails to hold together as a coherent whole, the result overlong and undercooked.

Set in a post-apocalypse world where the gun has given way to the sword, Josh Hartnett stars as 'The Drifter' - a lone stranger searching for a card game. His journey leads him to Woody Harrelson's bar where he meets Yoshi, an accomplished samurai swordsman, and the pair initially fail to see eye-to-eye, attacking each other with some venom.

Soon however, they realise they are bound by a common enemy - namely Nicola the Woodcutter. The most powerful man east of the Atlantic, Nicola rules the land with the help of the Red Gang - a group of beautifully-attired warriors, and the Deadly Assassins - nine ruthless excecutioners, led by the fearsome Killer #2.

Setting aside their differences, the cowboy with no gun and the samurai with no sword therefore team up to defeat these forces of evil, endeavouring to take down Nicola's army with the help of the bartender and an amry of the oppressed.

Unfortunately, while the story initially intrigues, it soon substitutes style for substance; the screenplay too knowing, the dialogue too self-conscious. Writer-director Guy Moshe is obviously playing with narrative conventions by blending hero myths from east and west to tell his story, but his script has nothing new to say on the subject, instead piling cliche upon cliche.

It looks amazing, the universe he has created utterly unique and original, like a pop-up book brought to life. But the visual flourishes quickly wear thin, at times seemingly enforced for no other reason than to paper over the cracks of a dull and predictable narrative.

Moshe certainly knows how to stage an action sequence, with a car chase and a circus fight particular stand-outs, but again too many of these sequences feel like we've seen them before, a side-scrolling brawl harking back to Oldboy; an animated flashback reminsicent of Kill Bill.

The cast is also a mixed bag, Ron Perlman on scene-stealing form as the villain of the piece and Woody Harrelson clearly having a blast as the bartender. Demi Moore also impresses with a brief turn as Nicola's whore-turned-lover.

But Josh Hartnett struggles as the drifter, his Clint Eastwood impression failing to ring true and his chemistry with Yoshi (played by Japanese pop star Gackt) practically non-existent. Kevin McKidd is all over the place as Killer #2, his scenery-chewing antics initially entertaining but soon outstaying their welcome.

That's not to say that BUNRAKU is a total disaster, the film certainly deserving of credit for its ambition. Indeed, from a technical point-of-view it's little short of a masterpiece, a feast for the eyes throughout.

But a film that wears its influences so proudly on its sleeve needs to say something original with its narrative, and Bunraku has nothing in this department, instead playing like a series of utterly derivative sequences unfurling in utterly predictable fashion.

So by all means watch the film for the striking visuals and stunning action, just don't expect to be engrossed by the story or thinking about it much after the credits have rolled.

source: IGN UK

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