Saturday, July 14, 2012

Bunraku: The Compassionate Killer

Apologies for anyone expecting more martial arts movie posts: for anyone who blogs, you know what it's like to struggle to find your voice. For the past four years I've done predominately academic writing, so to actually break away from that is strange and uncomfortable. But, that's part of the reason why I'm blogging in the first place. I also owe about two posts in the martial arts stockpile, which will get cleaned up within the week.

Last week I sat down with a couple of friends to watch Bunraku (2010) by director Guy Moshe. It was, frankly, incredible. I love the movie, despite the fact that it doesn't make a lot of sense, plot-wise, and in spite of the monumental pacing and dialogue issues. It's just a gorgeous film. Every frame is a piece of art that looks like it could have been ripped from a post-Sin City comic. The whole thing is colorful, but the lighting is dramatic, and the bad guys wear splashes of red and dapper outfits. The time period is, essentially, The Future, where guns and other weapons like guns have been locked away forever. Swords and traditional weapons have completely replaced them, giving the actors a lot of chances to display their martial prowess.

Plus, Ron Perlman plays Nicola, the Woodcutter, the "most powerful man East of the Atlantic."

It's a sexy movie.

The best part, however, is the way in which violence is portrayed. Like all action films, the plot is really just a string that connects amazing fight sequences. Half the time, it doesn't matter why the bad guys are fighting the good guys, it just matters that they're fighting. Gackt plays Yoshi, the token samurai in the film, who is on a quest to retrieve a medallion for his father, an aging warlord. I don't know why it matters that he's a samurai, but maybe in The Future Japan decided to go back to feudalism what hard. The other good guy is played by Josh Hartnett, who is never named. In the credits, he is listed as playing The Drifter. Essentially it's a movie where the actors play out their archetypes, Ron Perlman waxes poetic about how hard it is to be powerful, and people kill each other with swords, axes, or pikes. Josh Hartnett is the bare-knuckle boxer, which I guess makes him the token American.

Why does this matter?

Because of the concept of the compassionate warrior. At the beginning of the film, Yoshi strives to follow the tenets of bushido, namely jin, or compassion. This is, of course, incredibly difficult, when his main aim in life at the moment is to mow down as many people as he has to in order to fulfill the wishes of his father. Violence is always a mean to an end. What does it mean to be compassionate and still be a killer?

The film doesn't really explore it, but I believe that the line is meant to be more than just a throw-away. Yoshi kills, but he kills without letting his opponents suffer. (I hesitate to call them victims-- the reasoning for this is because all of his opponents are trained martial artists in their own ways, and to pick up a weapon is to physically say "I know what I'm doing" and opening yourself up for attack. Like the samurai or Western duelists: carrying a weapon means you are ready to use it.) To Americans, the concept of being compassionate while killing are two completely opposite ideas. But, in bushido, that is not necessarily the case. 

In my next post, I'm going to examine compassion in the movie Hero, and talk about what it means to be an assassin. And, you know, about the film itself and how fake history is sort of like real history, but a bit better. 

No comments:

Post a Comment