Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai - Emotionally Intense Period Drama

                               Takashi Miike is an cinematic extremist who is known for movies that go too far -- his previous film, 13 Assassins, ended with an almost hour-long bloody sword fight; His episode for Showtime’s 'Masters of Horror' series was so extreme that the network declined to air it; and whose violent, unpredictable movies (Ichi the Killer, Gozu) have amassed him enough of a cult. So, "Hara-Kiri" (2012) -- the rehash of  Masaki Kobayashi's bleak samurai tale -- comes as a surprise, which not in an arterial flow of wanton violence, but a quiet, narratively layered period drama with a focus squarely on character.

                              The movie takes place in the 17th century Japan, where the livelihood of people have gotten so bad that some samurai's are resorting to a truly dishonorable trick. It is said that Samurai without a  master to serve has not only lost his means of support; he’s also lost his purpose in life. He is called a 'ronin' and should commit ritual self-disembowelment, or hara-kiri. At the beginning of the film, a ronin Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) shows up at the house of Li, begging access to its noble courtyard so that he may commit the ritual suicide. The senior retainer of the house, Kageyu (Koji Yakusho) tells about another wayward samurai, Motome (Eita), who has also presented himself before the lord for the same task. 

                        Which nobleman would want some poverty-ridden samurai to spill his guts (literally) in the his courtyard? So chances are there that the master of the household will offer a few coins to get him to go away. The suicide bluff, in other words, is a means of extortion. Motome's ritual suicide is one of those bluffs. He hopes to receive a few coins to pay a doctor to care for his sick wife (Hikari Mitsushima) and child. The house of Li decides to make an example of poor Motome by forcing him to go through with the ritual. The poverty has made Motome to even sell his samurai sword and since he had no intention to commit suicide he has carried a bamboo sword. 

                       Kageyu, the senior retainer, shows no compassion forcing Motome to slit his belly with the blunt bamboo sword. The scene is more explicit and protracted in Miike's telling. After hearing this tale, Hanshiro doesn't say much and is still focused to continue his suicide. Later, a protracted flashback reveals the connection between the two ronin, beginning with Motome’s childhood, through marriage to fatherhood. The pace is slow but the story gradually moves to an emotional climax.  

                        I feel it is a kind of misapprehension to always to stamp Miike as some kind of transgressive, gore-obsessed rebel. He has basically worked in almost every genre: from comedies to love stories to kid-oriented adventures to adult-oriented drama.With "Hara-Kiri", Miike has transformed to yet another identity, that of sober and serious art-house auteur from the golden age of Japanese cinema. This Miike's version is both a melodramatic deepening and a ghastly doubling-down of Kobayashi’s great original, and though it might frustrate the blood thirsty fan base of Miike, the movie satisfies more classical movie hungers. 

                    Miike has built the movie well around Ichikawa's gravity and finesse. And his composition of the sequences set in the Li compound has an elegant theatricality. The script by Yamagishi boasts the hallmarks of Japanese period drama: an unforgiving caste system, rigid social codes and a quota for tragedy that's Shakespearean in its excess. Ichikawa movingly performs Hanshiro, who manifests himself as a man of subtle planning and control. 

                      "Hara-Kiri" is a slow-moving samurai drama in the classic pictorial tradition, concerned with  the passage of the seasons, and the physical, social and economic architecture of a caste-bound culture. The action scenes are restrained and doesn't form the heart of the movie. This is Miike's way of saluting the golden-age Japanese cinema —by respecting its heart and celebrating its iconic dazzle.Watch "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" if you are ready for a patient, ominous piece of epic storytelling that scrupulously rips  off the honorable samurai mythology.


Hara-Kiri:Death of a Samurai - IMDb


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Well, I don't know about this one but Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri with Tatsuya Nakadai in the lead remains my favorite Samurai film of all time.

Haricharan Pudipeddi said...

Neither have I heard about this film nor watched it. I'm adding it to my list, but don't know when will I watch it as I already have so many films in queue :)

The Mukhtiars said...

will watch

Anonymous said...

Good review...another to do for me!

Mousumi said...

a lot of violence :-(

Arun Kumar said...

@Murtaza Ali, Thanks for the comment. Kobayashi's "Hara-Kiri" was a timeless classic. Miike's version is not as great as that but worth a watch.

@Haricharan, Thanks for the comment.

@mukthiar, Thank you.

Arun Kumar said...

@adatewithdelhi, Thanks for the comment. Don't miss the film.

@Mousumi, Thanks for visiting my blog. I think "Hara-Kiri" was the most less violent movie of Miike or about this subject.