Since i blathered on about how great this film was in my review for Samurai Rebellion, i thought it prudent that i review this film next. In a bit of change of format this is gonna be a double bill as i have seen both the original and remake of this film.
The original is first up since i saw it first and is worth studying in-depth.
To be a Samurai without a clan is to have a hard life during the peace of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the beaten down ronin, Tsugumo Hanshirō appears at the gates of the Li clan and requests to end is existence via honourable Harakiri. But not all is as it seems…
This is another one of those movies that is just about perfect in every aspect, the acting by Tatsuya Nakadai is an example of his usual subtle greatness, and all of his supporting cast no less accomplished. Every shot is meticulously framed and blocked to appear as haunting and claustrophobic as possible, the sharpness of the instrumentation in the score adds to the bite of the scenes, and the story’s plotting is an absolute delight, with each passing scene being a turning of a page that keeps adding more twists and turns to a growing tragedy.
Masaki Kobayashi absolutely crucifies the romanticised ideals of the Samurai code of honour. Tsugumo Hanshiro does everything expected of an honourable Samurai and a good father, and in the end he is rewarded with nothing but a poor life that ends tragically in violence. On the flip side the young Chijiiwa Motome is shown no respite and no mercy when it becomes apparent that he traded in his sword for money to live, and the brutality of being forced to commit Harakiri with a bamboo sword is absolutely horrific and puts a stain on the house of Li.
I really don’t want to give away too many details regarding the plot as the story is just so well paced, but by the final shot it is apparent that the code of Bushido can and is ruined by the realities of trying to live in a harsh and unforgiving world.
As i stated earlier there is very little that is wrong with Harakiri, the only apparent flaws would have to be with its accessibility to wider audiences with it being in black and white, subtitled, and being very much a Japanese film.
Also the film while not being overly long in length certainly feels like it takes its time getting to where its going, but it cannot be stressed enough that the payoff is most certainly worth the time.
Tsugumo Hanshiro states before meeting his death that: “a man cannot live on honour alone”.
The brilliance of this statement in underlining the ridiculousness of structure and the hypocrisy of the institution of Bushido is one of the most powerful lines delivered in Samurai Cinema or indeed in any cinema. Harakiri shows us these brutal realities, it has moments of horror, joy, sadness, and tragedy and all of that adds up to a hell of a good story to experience.
**** 1/2 OUT OF FIVE
HARAKIRI: Death of a Samurai
i won’t go into too much detail with the remake as it although being quite good, it is ultimately unnecessary.
To the film’s credit it does go in a different direction than the original in an attempt to make its own identity, loosing some of the criticism of the Samurai way of life and dialling up the melodrama inherent in the story, and i will say i don’t think this is a bad thing. I teared up during some of the scenes, which is something i didn’t do at all during the original.
As for direct comparisons, the most obvious given that the director of this version is Takashi Miike (who gave us wonderful scenes like the piano wire and feet thingy in Audition) i must say that it is a toss-up between which one of Chijiiwa Motome’s death via bamboo sword is worse. Both are lengthy, hard to watch scenes of forced self-torture and mutilation. But if i were to choose one i would have to say the original is probably the most brutal for the way it was shot and the fact that mercy is withheld for Motome until in a moment of desperation he bites his own tongue off (sounds like a good date movie doesn’t it?).
If you only watch one of these films, my recommendation is to watch the original, as its social commentary will keep it floating well after the remake is forgotten. BUT if you really don’t want to watch the original for whatever reason, the remake is still Harakiri and it just can’t be helped that the story at the core of this film is just plain old good stuff.
*** OUT OF FIVE