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Takashi Miike's second straight tribute to the samurai genre is a
well-crafted and finely honed object. It's more consistent than Miike's
previous samurai film, 13 Assassins, although that also means it lacks
anything as great as that film's final battle. But what sets Hara-Kiri
apart is its willingness to not just offer a pastiche of these films
but genuinely question their values in a way that is still challenging
to the contemporary viewer.
Through a series of events told partially in flashbacks, Hara-Kiri poses the question of how relevant our values are -- whether they be highly codified values like honour or the more nebulous instincts that guide us today -- in the face of human suffering. The ronin that we see humiliated and killed in the first act is not guilty of breaking some arcane samurai bylaw but of doing something most of us would find disgraceful. But as the film goes on it argues that we should hold compassion even for people such as this, and that honour is ultimately irrelevant in the face of social suffering. In an age of recession and austerity, where so many try to cling to their ideas of what they or other people "deserve", this is an important message.
It's an easy film to appreciate and a difficult one to love -- there's a kind of coldness to this set of Miike's movies that seems out of place with the gonzo enthusiasm of his earlier work. And doubtlessly it will be too slow and cerebral for some. But its critique of not just a canonized genre but the way in which we view ethics makes it well worth seeing.
HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI is Takashi Miike's follow-up to the
crowd-pleasing, SEVEN SAMURAI-alike, 13 ASSASSINS. This film is a whole
different kettle of fish entirely and it's almost as if Miike went
deliberately out of his way to make an anti-13 ASSASSINS; there's no
action here, none of the wonderfully choreographed fight scenes that
made his previous film such a smash.
Instead, HARA-KIRI is an intense and emotional drama that explores notions of honour, familial ties and duty, packaging it in such a way that makes it a unique movie. As with most Miike, it's a sometimes obscure, often unwieldy production, deliberately going out of its way to be as slow-paced as possible and letting the story unfold in real time. Flashbacks are used extensively and those looking for an explosive, revenge-fuelled drama would do well to seek elsewhere as this isn't satisfying in that way at all.
Instead, it's a unique beast. The first 30 minutes is completely horrifying, a grisly ordeal that nearly manages to outdo PASSION OF THE Christ in its depiction of on screen suffering and pain. The rest of the film is a slow burner, although it does build up to an effective climax of sorts. The actors are well accomplished, with the excellent Ebizo Ichikawa holding the fort for much of the time. Needless to say, the level of technical proficiency is high and the film as a whole is expertly made; the intense drama of the characters' ordeals makes it one of Miike's most mature works yet.
Where does mercy fit in with the esprit de corps of a warrior class? Can there be honor without it? These are interesting questions raised in director Takashi Miike's poignant remake of the 1962 classic "Harakiri". This film may not satisfy the audience for slashing, body-count samurai movies because the emphasis is on mood and character but there are a number of things to recommend this film. "Hara-Kiri:Death of a Samurai" is beautifully photographed by Nobuyasu Kita and has laudable performances. Ebizo Ichikawa is Hanshiro a samurai with a young daughter of marriageable age. Hanshiro has adjusted to living in a time of peace. He isn't a wealthy man but seems happy and content making a living doing the odd job here and there. Ichikawa is wonderful in this role giving great weight and humanity to the character. He is a memorable samurai. Eita is Motome a young samurai who hasn't adjusted as well. He has been unable to find employment and so enters the house of a great lord asking for permission to commit harakiri in the courtyard and thus achieve an honorable death. Hikari Mitsushima is very affecting as Hanshiro's daughter, Miho. When I approached the theater showing this film I noticed someone walking away with teary eyes. I can't recall the last time that happened but after seeing "Hara-Kiri:Death of a Samurai" I understood why someone would be so moved.
Compared to the original 1962 Masaki Kobayashi film this movie is
shallow and meaningless. But even taken on its own merits it's still
An extremely powerful first act gives way to a ponderous middle, where the Ryuichi Sakamoto score over-dresses dreary long-winded sequences. Then it all culminates in a last act that is exciting both visually and intellectually... but completely unearned.
Miike has rarely been able to close in on a theme in his work with much accuracy (the two big differences that come to mind are Audition and Visitor Q, respectively being powerful explorations of misogyny in Japanese society and the collapse of the Japanese family), but when his films are crazed and breezy and fun that's rarely a criticism worth voicing. This time the subject matter demands something more and whatever Miike has to say about the Ruling Class or misplaced tradition or the role of the noble and ethical warrior in a time of peace comes out hopelessly convoluted.
Also, the 3D sucks and gives nothing to the experience except for muddling some gorgeous images with that dark uninspired light that those stupid glasses impose on even the best shot 3D films.
So what's good about it? Well, the projected lighting issues aside, it's a beautiful looking movie. Miike always knows where to place his camera, is never afraid of silence (sabotaged repeatedly by the uninspired score) and the movie has a wonderful seasons motif. Some of the acting is wonderful to watch and when it's being a powerful act of filmmaking, it's mighty powerful.
But here Miike doesn't quite have the right touch. And the lack of dedication to a deeper exploration of theme made the film seem little more than a sequence of events with little cohesion.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A samurai film set in the first generation after the rise of the
Tokugawa Shogunate -- when the samurai were beginning to perceive the
bitter reality that unity and peace were the death knell of much of
their usefulness as a caste -- Hara-Kiri centers around a story of
disgrace and revenge, but its take on this subject matter is unique,
and it is one of the very few samurai films that actually reaches the
point of questioning the ethos of "warrior's honour." It is not an
action film, for the most part; although its climactic act does feature
a fascinating one-against-many throwdown, it isn't there to provide
gore and death. This is a film that revolves around story, characters
The basic premise: with many samurai penniless and out of work under the Shogunate -- which has become vindictive about eliminating all possible threats to its power and has shut down whole domains -- a uniquely samurai kind of con artistry has sprung up, called the "suicide bluff," in which a ronin shows up at a well-appointed lordly estate, begs the use of the courtyard to commit seppuku, and thereby hopes to win the lord's sympathy and to be offered some money or a position in his retinue instead.
The film begins with one such story set at the House of Ii; the senior retainer, set to hear a suicide request from a penniless ronin, eyes him skeptically and then tells him (in flashback form) the story of another such ronin who came by attempting a suicide bluff just a short while earlier. The story of that young man, who shows up looking skinny, timorous and pathetic to make his request, is the story of an unsuspecting rube badly miscalculating the seriousness of the House of Ii's commitment to the samurai ideal, notwithstanding that most of its younger warriors have never seen combat. When the retainers of Ii discover that the young ronin has brought only a bamboo practice sword with him, they decide in rage to call his transparent bluff, summoning out the whole house to witness his suicide and sternly demanding that he go through with it... using only that same bamboo sword.
The youth's panic and seeming cowardice seem contemptible at first... but there is something just as twisted about the retainers' contempt when they discover he was just trying to get money to buy medicine for a sick wife and child. Finally, seeing that there's no way out, he does contrive to commit seppuku with the bamboo sword, in a scene of surpassing drawn-out agony and horror that will stay with you for days. (His "second," assigned to behead him, seems in particular to almost relish the young man's suffering, refusing to end it until he's twisted the bamboo blade in his guts to the man's satisfaction.) Back to the present, and the senior retainer of Ii offering this latest ronin the chance to leave with no questions asked. And that's when we discover that the two ronins' stories are connected... and that there's a larger objective of retribution in the newcomer's actions.
The drama that follows -- which affords us a chance to see the two ronin in an entirely different light, to discover their relationship and what brought them to their desperate pass, and to question whether the suppression of humaneness and empathy in the samurai code of conduct really just isn't a form of empty madness -- is deliberately-paced, intricately structured, and moving. It is well worth seeing, and indeed quite probably the best Japanese drama to be produced so far this century.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Miike remade "13 Assassins" to take full advantage of technical advances since the original arrived in the early '60s. Thus it was more spectacular, a great battle movie that put us in the heart of slash-pierce-hack-crunch-and-filet combat.. Of its kind, it was great and the update made sense. The same cannot be said for his remake of the Kobayashi masterpiece, which was intimate, a rumination on the cruelty and hypocrisy of bushido. A nutshell: an impoverished older samurai comes to a great house seeking a place to commit hara-kiri: he's told a young man tried the same trick earlier, a "bluff" suicide, hoping to get money or a job. But the House forced him to live up to his word, even though he'd sold his swords: thus he committed seppuku with wooden blades. It turns out that the older man is the younger's father in law: he's come for vengeance on the house, and (spoiler) after revealing he's defeated the young man's three primary adversaries in single combat, he draws blade on the house and goes down in a bloody frenzy of vengeance. Great revenge movie, but Miike rewires it. You'd expect him to lay on the gore (as he did in "13" and many of his quickie yakuza films) but instead he dials it way down, keeps it somehow intellectual rather than visceral. Sorry, but I'm shallow enough to be disappointed: I wanted to see heads roll and arms chopped off. (It's a SAMURAI movie, right?) He retains Kobayashi's deliberate, almost ritual like pace and symmetrical compositions, but the understated intensity (SPOILER!: the old man fights his last fight with the wooden sword, so he is incapable of killing the Household guard) of the climax lets the movie end without the emotional catharsis it demanded. A disappointing exercise.
I thought they did a wonderful job with this movie. They didn't sell out by making it all in English with American actors. They didn't go crazy making it a bloodbath just to get the younger viewers. The movie really gives you an insight into Japan's history and what life was like for these people. The atmosphere and story telling really draws you in. The acting is great especially one scene that had me cringing. There were a lot of parts where I was like whoa I didn't see that coming. I can understand those out there loyal to the original but you at least have to give the film makers of this remake credit. They stayed true to Japanese culture, they didn't get tom cruise or Keanu reeves to star in it. They didn't write it for the newer younger audience and make all the characters smart mouth kids. Unfortunately I haven't seen the original yet and I understand how those people might not like this one. I don't know how I would feel about a seven samurai remake? I think this movie was well done. It succeeded in telling a truly gripping story without going all modern on it and ruining it. I enjoyed it.
Anyone with a more than passing interest in Japanese movies ought to
watch Kobayashi's 1962 version of Takaiguchi's novel that this also is
based on, and watch the intro by the Japanese film authority Donald
Ritchie on the Criterion edition. Ritchie makes fully clear how
Kobayashi here, as in other films, is talking through the historical
tale about current issues he was passionate about, in this case
lingering post-WWII authoritarianism in Japan and hollow bureaucracies,
in his day as in the time of the early Tokugawa government; Miike
doesn't seem to have anything particularly urgent to say. Look at what
Ritchie points out that Kobayashi's version offers: the script by ace
screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto who wrote Akira Kurosawa's Seven
Samurai; the score by bold, influential experimentalist Toru Takemitsu;
the strong and unifying symbolic use of empty samurai armor throughout;
the career-defining lead performance by Tatsuya Nakadai; and the
elegantly austere use of black and white cinematography.
Ironically Miike's film also carries over Kobayashi's one serious flaw - - an overindulgence in sentimentality and pathos in the flashback love story.
Miike, apparently seeking 'respectability' after all his entertaining ultra-violence with this staid remake/adaptation, also overdoes everything. He makes every scene too drawn-out and talky. He further overdoes the sentimentality, to the point that in his version becomes unbearably cloying, virtually unwatchable. Once again, 3D adds nothing; black and white was just what was needed. Less was and is more.
Whenever a filmmaker goes over familiar ground, adapting a book that has been adapted (and very well) before, he exposes himself to comparisons to the book and to the previous adaptation. Don't get me wrong. Miike has plenty of skill. It is not that his 'Hara- Kiri' is a washout. It's just that Kobayashi's version is a true work of art, a film classic, in fact; and in comparison Miike's is merely a competent effort and a pointless bid for respectability that was not needed. He is a master in his own realm. Surprisingly his last film before this, the juicy, action-historical blockbuster 13 Assassins, which I thoroughly enjoyed, also was an adaptation -- of Eiichi Kudo's little known samurai film of the same name. Thanks to 'Wildgrounds' (who compare the two Hara- Kiri films) for this info. Thanks also to Ben Parker on 'CapitalNewYork' for his detailed comparison of the two films; and to the Criterion Collection, for its print of Kobayashi's 'Hara-Kiri' and Donald Ritchie's informed introduction to it.
After reading the reviews of others I got an impression that people
didn't understand the message the movie or the main hero tried to
convey (or they just expected something totally different, by comparing
it to director's other work). Yes, the catharsis here is not as strong
as in the original, and generally it's not as complete. Nonetheless,
the story is masterfully told both visually and emotionally and the
actors perfectly fit their roles, so for me it was a very moving, very
There is one detail in the third act that makes a difference between the two movies (in favor of the original). There is also a slight, but subtle, difference in the messages of the movies. The message of the original is that honor and principles are empty words, without much substance behind them. People living by them are hypocrites. The message of this one is that the intrinsic value of life is (or should be) higher than any honor bound principles. And this is a much personal message not tying itself to times, places or nations.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The basic plot of the movie is amazing.very original, and like nothing I've seen. The way the director chose not to end the movie with a revenge killing was amazing and didn't leave me with wanting of the characters to die. It made me feel as if his message got through and that his death at the end was fitting due to his completion of what he set out to do. The knowledge of the clans wrong doing set him for revenge but more powerful than blood. It seemed as if he made all the right moves and kept his honor. Unlike the clan. It made me feel content and confused with what really happened during the time of the samurai. The ending made me feel as if the icon of the armor was almost a god figure. When he tried to take it it said to me that the main character was saying to the clan " you aren't good enough to have it". And the throwing away of the hair knots made me think of how low the country of Japan got with the lowest point for me being world war 2. It was a very strong movie with lots of satisfying shots. But the only thing I didn't like was the subtitles. Sometimes they went to fast to read and left me wondering what someone said. Or the translation would be off for me.
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