Monster movies, especially Japanese ones, have had a long love affair with practical effects work. But short film Kaiju Bunraku, which made its debut at Sundance last year (and is now finally online), takes that relationship and runs with it, in a beautifully stylized story told entirely with puppets.
As the name implies, Lucas Leyva and Jillian Mayer’s Kaiju Bunraku is a short film about Kaiju (giant monsters) in the style of bunraku, the traditional Japanese art of puppet theater, right down to the black-clad puppeteers hiding in plain sight throughout the piece. Specifically, it’s about an elderly, unnamed husband and wife who live on an island (and are perhaps the last remaining human survivors) constantly beset by attacks from giant monsters from across Japan’s cinematic history.
We only get to see one monster in particular—the infamous Mothra, who debuted in his self-titled movie Mothra in 1961—but the presence and cosmic weirdness of Kaiju permeates the entirety of Kaiju Bunraku, even as the short itself focuses on an intriguing logical debate symbolised by the diametrically opposed beliefs of the wife and husband. The wife believes in finding order through reconstruction, delicately and diligently cleaning and rebuilding the couple’s house after every monster attack, while the husband wishes to fight back against their cyclical existence, wanting to create something new instead of merely reconstructing what was once lost.
That might sound a bit heady, but keep in mind it’s still a puppet movie about giant monsters. Plus, “the first Mothra film to make it to Sundance” is one hell of a tagline!