A 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.]
- Backstage at Bunraku: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Japan’s Traditional Puppet Theatre by Barbara C. Adachi; photographs by Joel Sackett
- A History of Japanese Theater
- Bunraku: The Classical Puppets of Japan (Documentary)
- The Voices and Hands of Bunraku by Barbara Adachi
- Nō; and, Bunraku: Two Forms of Japanese Theatre by Donald Keene; photographs by Kaneko Keizō
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.
- Sword & Spirit by Diane Skoss
- Knife & Tomahawk Throwing: The Art of the Experts by Harry McEvoy
- Complete Kendo by John Donohue
- The Mystic Arts of the Ninja: Hypnotism, Invisibility, and Weaponry Stephen K. Hayes
- Aikido: The Complete Basic Techniques Gozo Shioda
- Tae Kwon Do Basics by Keith D. Yates
- Mixed Martial Arts Unleashed by Mickey Dimic
- Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel
- The Story of Karate: From Buddhism to Bruce Lee by Luana Metil
- The Way of the Warrior: Martial Arts and Fighting Styles from Around the World by Chris Crudelli
- The Japanese Sword: The Soul of the Samurai by Gregory Irvine
- Championship Streetfighting: Boxing As A Martial Art by Ned Beaumont (available via the Virtual Catalog)
- Fighting Fit: Boxing Workouts, Techniques and Sparring by Doug Werner
- The Ultimate Book of Martial Arts by Fay Goodman
- Jodo: Way of the Stick by Michael Finn
- Jo: Art of the Japanese Short Staff by David Lowry
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.
- The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent
- Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design by Karen Collins
- The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create and Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects by Rick Viers
- Origami Art: 15 Exquisite Folded Paper Designs from the Origamido Studio by Michael G. LaFosse
- Making Shadow Puppets by Jill Bryant
- Comics Art by Paul Gravett
- Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels by Scott McCloud
- Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative by Will Eisner
- Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner
- Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving Image by David Landau
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:
- Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir by Eddie Muller
- The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie
- The Japanese Film: Art and Industry by Joseph Anderson
- From Shane to Kill Bill: Rethinking the Western by Patrick McGee
- Back in the Saddle Again: New Essays on the Western by Edward Buscombe and Roberta E. Pearson
- The Philosophy of the Western by
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.
- The Warrior’s Way
- The Good, The Bad, The Weird
- The Protector
- Kung Fu Hustle
- Journey to the West
- Painted Skin
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.