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Harakiri (1962) * Top Pick *

I've been on a roll finding awesome posters...
I've been on a roll finding awesome posters...

Genre: Samurai Period Drama (Japan)

Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai (Kagemusha; Yojimbo), Rentaro Mikuni (The Legend of Musashi; Kaidan)

Directed By: Masaki Kobayashi (Samurai Rebellion; The Human Condition Trilogy)

Overview: Also known as Seppuku, this is the tale of an impoverished samurai who presents himself at a feudal Lord's home in hopes that they will host his ritual suicide. The Lord tells him the tale of what happened last time a samurai came to their door asking such a thing.

Performance:

Our characters all bask in the glow of their archetype. We have the boy, an immature upstart who doesn't seem to understand what giving one's word really means, and finds out the hard way. We have the deferential hardened and humbled samurai visiting the Lord to pray for audience to his ritual death. The aides and the Lord are all solid stoic champions of the system, the rigid structure of honour, the fief. It's got that 'legend' hint of storytelling to it.
Rating: 9

Cinematography:

Black and white was never honoured so well as with freshly raked sand gardens, traditional attire and chiaroscuro composition. I'll admit I was floored with Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion just a little more, but not by much.

Oh wait, there's suicide too!
Rating: 9

Script:

Swordsmanship untested in battle is like mastering swimming on land.

As preparations are made, the samurai and the Lord exchange stories, explaining how they have come to this crossroads in life, discussing with one another the reasons fate has brought them here. When you have a multi-layered moral lesson to tell, if it's not properly written, it's not going to have the necessary poignancy. Well talk about being full of Buddha-class one liners of wisdom nuggets. A perfect telling.
Rating: 9

Plot:

This has got to be one of the deepest moral lesson films you will see. If you know very little about the medieval Japanese traditional honour system, this boils it down to the core, points out its tragic flaws, then builds it up again by including the necessary element of humanity. Some times in our lives it is easier to live by the Samurai's code than others. Harakiri's tales, as told by the Lord and his broken samurai guest, peels the layers of the deeper mystery absolutely perfectly, and tops it off with a sweet finale too.
Rating: 10

Mood:

In my recent (and ongoing) exploration of the 60s Samurai film, I've found example after example of this genre of story. The feel of Harakiri is much like the perfection found in Kobayashi's Samurai Rebellion: strict order in the cinematography and pace of the storyline's calculated twists and revelations, all while slowly drawing us to the brilliant conclusion, all the while using strong symbols to drive the point home.
Rating: 9

The less traditional, though equally honourable 'Suicide by waving my sword around at other people till they stab me to death' method was also quite popular...
The less traditional, though equally honourable 'Suicide by waving my sword around at other people till they stab me to death' method was also quite popular...

Overall Rating: 92% (Take It Into Your Own Hands!)
Aftertaste:

This is going to be one of the Samurai films I use to measure all others by. It made me realize this sub-genre of Period film will forever be favoured by me. Until now I just thought I liked the outfits and the swords, but the themes consistently include important moral lessons about human character, and hey that's cinema to me.

If you like Medieval Japan, or think you might, just take a moment and examine this. My writing doesn't do it justice, there's just too much mystery I don't want to reveal.

And if you get the Criterion version, make sure you watch the added analysis of the film, it's short and sweet.

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Great poster, Squishster.

 

I just love this golden period of Japanese film. So many great artists working at the top of their form. A couple of recomendations for ye. The new Criterion Sansho the Bailiff, and the Criterion Crazed Fruit.

 

There is also a new DVD of Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain out there, and I can't reccomend it strongly enough as a great anti-war film. Harrowing, but brilliant.


Sweet! Thanks so much for the recommendation, I added them both to my Ziplist :D
As for Sansho the Baillif, I enjoyed it, though with very high expectations.


Yup.. this was a fantastic display of beautiful composition and cinematography. I enjoyed it all the way through, but I guess I was a little disappointed with the big fight scene at the end, but I do realize it was in sync with the film's flow and also with leanings to honor, respect, blah blah blah in the samurai world, so I can live with it. And yes, I did have mixed feelings about Motown but developed an appreciation for him by the end. Thanks for letting me partake Squish!


Yer crazy :P

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