Probably more than any other program at TIFF, the Midnight Madness section is set apart by films that are heavy on style. As many of them are genre films, the style weighs heavily in conveying the themes and subject matter to the audience. Unfortunately, often films that rely upon or engage too much of their energy in aesthetic considerations, lack enough substance to be self-sustaining. Such a film is Guy Moshe’s second feature film, Bunraku. Set in a strange dystopic universe where guns are outlawed, the weapon of choice is the sword and a strange man called Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman) rules one particular town with the help of his ten killers. A drifter (Josh Hartnett) comes into town with the intention of killing Nicola; he meets up with a rebel bartender (Woody Harrelson) and a samurai (GACKT), and together they join forces to rid the town of the menace. Their main adversary is Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd) and his band of red-suited heavies.
The first 45 minutes of the film is pretty close to insane brilliance. With a strange mix of fairy-tale-style voiceover, scene changes that invoke pop-up books and a vision made from some pretty wild imaginations of art direction and costume design, the film is an odd mixture of steam punk, spaghetti western and West Side Story. McKidd in particular shines as he styles his acting to match the film; every gesture he makes, and the film makes, is meant to invoke a world where without the fast brutality of the bullet, one must learn how to move both to use and avoid the cut. However, after the audience becomes accustomed to this style, there is little else to enjoy.
The story is simple, and while there is no fault in that (the best stories are the simplest ones,) it is not strong enough. At nearly two hours in length, the wait for the final confrontation becomes a meandering and almost interminable path. The pace drags and the twists and turns and subplots are unnecessary and annoying. It seems that Moshe is attempting to put a reference to almost everything he likes (be it other films, video game aesthetics, literary motifs) with little explanation or importance other than to have them in the film. The last twenty minutes become a frenzy of killing off six of the remaining killers, two of which are not properly visualized. It is far too long a build-up for little reward. In such a style-dependent film, there is a limit to how much the audience can reasonably absorb. A finer balance needs to be struck between style and substance.