Reading List: The Many Styles of BUNRAKU

BUNRAKU_1024x768pixA mysterious drifter and an ardent Japanese warrior both arrive in a town terrorized by criminals. Guided by The Bartender at the Horseless Horseman Saloon, the two join forces to bring down the corrupt reign of Nicola and his lady Alexandra.

Remember Ethan Chandler (from this post on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful)? Well. Josh Hartnett plays another mysterious loner in Bunraku, a movie that merges different visual storytelling (and fighting) styles to great effect. The following set of reading lists includes: Background information on Bunraku theater; various fighting forms; art as visual narrative (with bonus sound effects); tropes, get your tropes here!; and a brief list of other films you will no doubt want to watch but after Bunraku, of course.

I. Bunraku: Japan’s Puppet Theater

So what is Bunraku? An explanation, because they said it better than we ever could:

“Bunraku’s world renown stems not only from its high-quality artistic technique, but also from the high level of its joruri music and the unique nature of manipulating the puppets―each puppet requires three puppeteers to bring it to life. Throughout the world there are a number of types of puppet theatre, and they all treat with simple stories such as myths and legends. There is no other art that requires a whole day for its long, serious drama to unfold. Furthermore, in most of the world’s puppet theatres, great pains have been taken to hide the manipulation of the puppeteers from the audience. There are several methods of achieving this: suspending the puppet from strings attached to the ceiling, as with marionettes; placing a hand within the puppet and moving it with the fingers, as with guignol puppets; and casting shadows upon a screen, as with the wayan kulit shadow puppets. But in Bunraku, the manipulators appear openly, in full view of the audience.” [Japan Arts Council; to learn more about the history and art of Bunraku visit their website.]

II. Martial Arts

Fight scenes are plentiful in the movie, and each one features multiple styles: From fairly common styles, like Karate, to more esoteric styles, like Jodo, seemingly every character employs a different specific form. One of our main characters, Yoshi, utilizes several techniques, while another, the Drifter, favors straight-up gloves-off boxing.

III. Visual Arts & Sound Effects

The Bunraku filmmakers were certainly heavily influenced not just by traditional Japanese puppetry but also by other forms of visual storytelling, specifically the kind found in comic books and video games. Regarding the latter, they went so far as to include in the movie sound effects spliced right out of, say, Pac-Man.

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IV. Tropes & Storytelling

Mysterious loner bent on revenge? Check. Brooding martial arts master determined to act honorably? Check. Barman imparting wisdom? Oh, you bet. What we’re saying is: Sure, this movie takes a lot of tried and true tropes found in Western and Noir novels and films, to name a few, and plops them down in Moshe’s richly visual world, but believe it or not, the stuffed-blender treatment won’t bother you in the least. To give you a reference point on the types of storytelling found in Bunraku:

V. Those Other Movies that are Not Buraku

Granted, Josh is not in any of the following movies, but they are still no doubt fantastic fun or, at the very least, action-packed.

Have a look at the Bunraku trailer and then maybe head over to the catalog to see if it’s available for check-out.

Don’t hesitate to contact us with requests for the books listed here that are not found in the NOBLE catalog. We’d be more than happy to get them for you from the virtual catalog or through inter-library loan.

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