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Harakiri (1962)
"Seppuku" (original title)

 -  Action | Drama | History  -  4 August 1964 (USA)
8.6
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Ratings: 8.6/10 from 14,900 users  
Reviews: 179 user | 63 critic

An elder ronin samurai arrives at a feudal lord's home and requests an honorable place to commit suicide. But when the ronin inquires about a younger samurai who arrived before him things take an unexpected turn.

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Title: Harakiri (1962)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Akira Ishihama ...
...
Tetsurô Tanba ...
Hikokuro Omodaka
Masao Mishima ...
Tango Inaba
Ichirô Nakatani ...
Hayato Yazaki
Kei Satô ...
Masakazu
Yoshio Inaba ...
Jinai Chijiiwa
Hisashi Igawa ...
Retainer
Tôru Takeuchi ...
Retainer
Yoshirô Aoki ...
Umenosuke Kawabe
Tatsuo Matsumura
Akiji Kobayashi
Kôichi Hayashi
Ryûtarô Gomi ...
(as Katsuo Gomi)
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Storyline

Peace in 17th-century Japan causes the Shogunate's breakup of warrior clans, throwing thousands of samurai out of work and into poverty. An honorable end to such fate under the samurai code is ritual suicide, or hara-kiri (self-inflicted disembowelment). An elder warrior, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) seeks admittance to the house of a feudal lord to commit the act. There, he learns of the fate of his son-in-law, a young samurai who sought work at the house but was instead barbarically forced to commit traditional hara-kiri in an excruciating manner with a dull bamboo blade. In flashbacks the samurai tells the tragic story of his son-in-law, and how he was forced to sell his real sword to support his sick wife and child. Tsugumo thus sets in motion a tense showdown of revenge against the house. Written by Kevin Rayburn <kprayb01@homer.louisville.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Genres:

Action | Drama | History

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Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

4 August 1964 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Harakiri  »

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Did You Know?

Trivia

While filming, Tatsuya Nakadai was afraid during most of the sword and spear fighting scenes because real swords were being used, a practice now forbidden in Japanese films. His concern was not alleviated even though professional swordsmen were employed during the choreographed swordplay. See more »

Quotes

Hanshiro Tsugumo: When my master's house fell we immediately left the domain and moved to Edo. The streets of Edo were crowded with ronin - flotsam from the Battle of Sekigahara. In former times, other clans would have gladly taken in any ronin who'd earned a name for himself. But in an era no longer in need of warriors or horses, so peaceful that no wind even rustled the leaves on the trees, it was a constant struggle simply to find a meal. Indeed, it shames me to recall our miserable lives of these last eight ...
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Referenced in Hero (2002) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Samurai Genre is Used to Exposively Indict Japanese Politics and Culture
16 September 2005 | by (Queens, NY) – See all my reviews

I saw Harakiri (Seppuku) in a new 35 mm print at NYC's Film Forum. This is a brilliant use of a narrow period genre to explosively indict politics and culture. Writers Shinobu Hashimoto and Yasuhiko Takiguchi surely must have been as inspired by "The Count of Monte Cristo," Ambrose Bierce and Howard Hawks' Westerns as much as by samurai literature and movies.

The film begins deceptively as a story within a story, seemingly providing a traditional example of upholding samurai honor, such as in the conventional, oft-retold tale of "The 47 Ronin." The context is set at a time when the central government, the shogunate, is supplanting local clans and arbitrarily unemploying thousands of people, notably their samurai, forcing them into the mercenary mode of ronin at best and begging for food at worse. But the parallels to the 20th century are made repeatedly explicit as the samurai who comes to this clan seeking help is from Hiroshima.

Very gradually we get further insight on the tale within a tale, as we see more flashbacks within flashbacks into what each character has been doing before these confrontations and we get uneasy inklings that the moral of the story may not be what it appears at first and the stakes get higher and higher with almost unbearable tension.

It is almost halfway through the film until we see a female and we suddenly see an alternative model of masculinity, where a priority is put on family, support, education and creative productivity. In comparison to the macho opening relationships, with their emphasis on formal militaristic loyalty to a hierarchy, a loving husband and father is practically a metrosexual. Seeing the same stalwart samurai making casual goo goo sounds to his grandbaby puts the earlier, ritualized scenes in sharp relief, particularly the recurring image of the clan's armor which seems less and less imposing and is finally destroyed as an empty symbol.

The psychological tension in the confrontations in the last third of the film is more excruciating than the actual violence. Even when we thought we already knew the outcome from the flashbacks, the layers of perception of relationships and personalities are agonizingly peeled away with each thrust of a sword to reveal the depths of the horrifying hypocrisy of the political and social structure. And those are just the overwhelming cultural resonances that a 21st century American can glean. Like "Downfall (Der Untergang)," it reveals the inhumane mentality that led to World War II.

The repeating motif of long walks then confrontations down empty corridors emphasizes the stultifying bureaucratic maze that entraps the characters. The revenge motifs are accented by startlingly beautiful cinematography that recalls traditional Japanese art, including drops of blood like first snow flakes then a waterfall.

The over all effect of this masterpiece is emotionally draining.


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