J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Sundance ’17: Kaiju Bunraku (short)

How can Japan be some stoic in the face of rampaging kaiju monsters? They are just used to it. If you have seen the Daimajin movies, you know this sort of thing has gone on for centuries. You need not explain the kaiju phenomenon to this particular weary married couple of traditional bunraku marionettes. They will weather yet another attack in Lucas Leyva & Jillian Mayer’s short film Kaiju Bunraku, which screened during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

As per custom dating back to the early 1800s, the puppeteers bringing life to K-B’s characters appear all in black, with their faces hooded. They are performing on an actual stage, apparently before a live audience, but the sets and costumes are so richly crafted, viewers will immediately be transported into the bickering couple’s world. The man and woman live in an unspecified time, presumably pre-Twentieth Century, except they understand only too well the poisonous effects of the radiation released on their environment from the constant kaiju assaults. Like Sisyphus, they ordinarily just pick up the pieces of their lives and carry-on until the next kaiju barges through. However, the man might finally reach his breaking point this time around.

Although fans will say it is not canonical, K-B arguably represents the first Mothra film to make it to Sundance. Regardless, the film is wickedly cool in conception and execution, staying true to the spirit of both bunraku theater and Japanese kaiju cinema. The artistry of the Bunraku Bay Puppet Theater is wonderfully refined and hugely entertaining. They really bring out the emotional poignancy of the two characters.

K-B will absolutely leave viewers wanting more bunraku and more kaiju, but the film itself feels entirely self-contained. It is a terrific short that should be a cinch to get programmed at the genre festivals coming later in the year, much like Do No Harm. Enthusiastically recommended for those who appreciate Japanese culture and cult cinema, Kaiju Bunraku premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

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