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Samurai Genre is Used to Exposively Indict Japanese Politics and Culture
noralee16 September 2005
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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Great movie
gubami28 October 2004
When I first saw this movie, I did not know much about it. I saw it for a class so I was given a little background of the time period. In fact I was pretty much just told this:

This movie takes place during the time where many Samurai were left ronins, or masterless. These samurai were unable to find work and thereby were left in poverty. Eventually many would go up to clans and ask to commit seppuku.

It was dishonorable to refuse such a "noble" request, but most clans did not want samurai to kill themselves on their property so they would just pay the samurai to go elsewhere.

So I watched the movie and well... I loved it. During the class discussion the next day I found most people hated the movie. Not because it was a bad movie, but because of how it made people feel about themselves. And that's exactly why this movie is genius. If you're interested in watching this movie, do not read the summary in detail - reading the summary in detail will deprive you of what one of the key things that made the movie great IMO.
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Disharmony of Sword and Pen
Galina21 March 2007
I've said it once about another movie, incidentally by the other great Japanese director as well and I want to repeat my words in regard to "Harakiri": "There are good, very good, and even great movies. But among them there are just a few that go beyond great. They belong to the league of their own". Masaki Kobayashi's "Harakiri" aka "Seppuku" is one of them. The film of rare power and humanism, of highest artistic achievements, profoundly moving, tragic like the best Shakespeare's plays, universal and timeless even if it takes place in the faraway country of 1630, by the words of one of the reviewers "Harakiri" "is to cinema as the Sistine Chapel is to painting. Unsurpassable!"

The film grabbed me from the very first shot, from its opening credits with their perfect harmony of kanji (I believe it is a correct word to describe the writings) characters, with the unusual disturbing score and with the dark beauty of the images. And then the story begins that centers on Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai), one of hundreds or maybe even thousands unemployed lord less samurais, ronin, that in the blessed times of peace had not many choices to adjust to new life and often preferred to commit a ritual suicide, hara-kiri or seppuku on the property of the wealthy estate owners. According to Bushido, the way of the samurai, "One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind, by day and by night . . . the fact that he has to die. That is his chief business."

At the same time, samurai and anti-samurai film, "Harakiri" offers the masterfully screened scenes of sword-fights, not plentiful but exquisitely choreographed, perfectly paced and unbearably intense but the film is much more than that. It is also a gripping court drama where the truth is unfolded in the flashbacks. The viewers are allowed to look closer at the noble Samurai code of behavior and to reflect on how its abuse impacts the fate of an individual and the society in general. Compelling, poetic, and tragic, the movie has one of the most pessimistic endings ever that makes you wonder how the history is made, how the historical events are interpreted and who decides what would be written in the chronicles and important documents and what would be left out.

A Masterpiece, one of the best movies ever made, "Harakiri" deserves all its praise. It is not in my nature to force my opinion on anyone but if you call yourself a movie buff or a movie lover, you MUST see this film.
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200 Proof
Duree8 November 2001
This film is the purest distillation of the spirit of Greek tragedy ever put on celluloid. Yes, this is a review of Seppuku, a Japanese film released in 1962. Perhaps it took a non-Westerner, free of all of the cultural baggage and ridiculous associations, to see straight into the heart of the tragic mode and make it palpable and alive in the twentieth century. That is not all: the black and white cinematography is both formally assured and often outrageously daring; the soundtrack is one of the finest efforts of the greatest Japanese composer of the 20th century (or any century for that matter); the acting is demonically inspired; and the narrative is relentlessly gripping and involving. The film illuminates the relationship between the individual and society and between society and history. It is a tender meditation on familial love and the ties of friendship that transcend even death. This film will cut open your bowels, pull your soul out, and force you to stare it in the face. There may be other films that attain similar heights, but I cannot imagine any film, ever, being more perfect. Forget Citizen Kane, Seven Samurai, the Godfather, etc. etc. all of those commodified canonical works that everybody raves about because everybody else is raving about them. Don't get me wrong, they're fine--but this stuff is 200 proof. See it today. Buy it yesterday.
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A Gem of Japanese Cinema
lstrawser13 April 2006
Harakiri is an excellent human drama set in feudal Japan that involves a ronin presenting himself to a powerful clan and asking to commit harikiri. However, through a series of flashbacks we see that this ronin is motivated by more than the idea of dying honorably. The events that follow are a critique of the feudal system and a celebration of dying for one's beliefs.

Every frame in Harikiri is wonderfully composed and a treat to view. The cinematography is crisp, the sets wonderful and the actors are spectacular. Much can be said about this film's technical merits as well as its social implications. I found out about this film through my love of Akira Kurosawa's samurai dramas (who else...) and I must say that it is very different from Kurosawa-sans work although it draws inevitable comparisons. Due to its themes, Harikiri is more of an anti samurai film. Generally Kurosawa's work seems to glorify the honor of the samurai and celebrate them as Japanese heroes by showing them gloriously in battle. Kurosawa is the Japanese John Ford, taking an icon from his culture and celebrating it. Harikiri exposes the virtues that Kurosawa portrays as being "a facade" to directly quote the film.

I say this so as not to mislead any potential viewers, I do not know enough about Japanese history to judge what the samurai really stood for and really I am not concerned with the idea. This is the only Kobyashi film I have seen and it has been brought to my attention that many of his films deal with similar themes. All in all I think that Harikiri is a wonderful film that offers a new take on feudal Japan.
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This is the best character study & Samurai movie ever made.
FRANK1312 May 1999
I have seen this movie numerous times (at least 10, probably many more), and enjoy it each time. The first couple of times I saw it was right after it came out. It did not have sub-titles, and as my Japanese is not very good, I made some assumptions about the characters, relationships, the plot,etc. When I saw it with sub-titles, I was surprised at how few incorrect assumptions I had made. That I made so few errors is no credit to me, but rather to how well the plot, character development, character relationships, and the overall movie were done.

The movie is not limited to feudal Japan, for it transcends this era. It has lessons, for those who look for this in art. For instance, just one example occurs to me now: It underscores the need for a person to stand on principle, and to maintain their honor, ethics, and dignity, even when those who are the political leaders have long since lost theirs. However for purely entertainment value, the realism, suspense, art, and action could not be better. Words fail to express how this film captivates and entertains. Few films can equal this one. It is a "must see."
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Does to the Samurai genre what Wild Bunch did to the Western!
OttoVonB7 October 2005
Having seen this film the mind becomes clouded with the innumerable things to say about it. Only praise comes to mind. Kobayashi has crafted The great samurai film for the rebel generation and he mixes a deftly handled criticism of authoritarian hypocrisy with a very touching piece of human drama.

The plot is deceptively simple: an old samurai (touchingly portrayed by Tatsuya Nakadai of "Ran", "Kagemusha" and "Sword of Doom") arrives at a clan castle to commit seppuku in their yard, and then tells his tale, seemingly trying to gain time at first. What seems to be the rambling of an old man soon turns out to be a grieving account of how this man (and, more significantly, his loved ones) was wronged by the clan. Then comes the violent revenge (this is where you think "Wild Bunch with katanas", though they do up the ante toward the end with guns...).

Kobayashi's direction is masterful, keeping an unbearable suspense during the mostly talky film, handling the touching scenes with care and maturity and giving us a sweeping fight to top all that. The 133 minutes running time never feels half that long! At the heart of it all though, is Nakadai, who, despite an excellent CV, delivers his greatest performance ever. His Tsugumo evokes a wounded panther, grieving an grieving until it gives in to fury. Nakadai's performance alone marks the film as essential viewing.

If you're open to samurai flicks, this will rank among the finest films you've ever seen.
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Rituals and appearances aren't just about the Japanese
futures-117 July 2005
"Harakiri" ("Seppuku") (Japanese, 1962): It is the 17th century. A young Samurai warrior arrives at a mansion, asking to perform his ritual death there. In a series of flashbacks, we learn who he is, why he came, and what has occurred since. Although quietly told by another ex-warrior (about whom we also learn more), this is an interesting story that builds in complexity and tension. Debates about rituals and appearances may at first seem to hold more significance in old Japan than in the contemporary United States, but it is not difficult to translate and implement such thoughts. Love, honor, duty, family, children, saving "face", determination, desperation…they all exist in OUR everyday lives. Dramatically photographed in beautiful black & white, given a strong Japanese score, and paced so that even the mildly patient will be glad they saw it, "Harakiri" is epically huge, and a must-see for story & film lovers.
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Excellent cinematography
Dino7420 April 2006
It's quite surprising that some old masterpieces fall easily into the oblivion. Harakiri (Seppuku) is a good example. Quite simply this is one of the best Japanese movies I've ever seen.

Everything is this movie is exceptional: the cinematography is top notch, the acting is very good, the direction is almost perfect.

Tragedy, revenge, ethics, political contents...this movie has all of these elements wrapped in an exceptional 16th century samurai environment.

The only defects I could see in this movie is that someone may feel it is slightly slow (as actually there are very few action scenes...this is not a "chambara" movie!) and the fact that it is not dubbed (at least in the Italian edition)...so you lose some of the details while reading the subtitles....that is, unless you understand Japanese.

If you like black & white Japanese movies this is definitely a must see. GREAT.
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A classic!
WaveTossed28 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A classic, surviving the test of time -- made in 1962 about 17th century people. Here in 2005, we still watch and discuss the film and the issues that it raises. Tsugumo Hanshiro, a middle-aged ronin formerly serving a clan abolished by the Shogunate, appears at the Ii clan gate. He wishes to commit seppuku rather than live on in poverty. In his inner headquarters, Saito Kageyu, the chief retainer, bemoans the fact that hordes of starving ronin have been making similar requests at clan gates; most have wanted handouts rather than to actually commit seppuku. Kageyu suspects the same of Hanshiro. Kageyu attempts to discourage Hanshiro. He tells a tale of another ronin from the same abolished clan, Chijiiwa Motome.

Motome had appeared a few months earlier, with a request, but had carried bamboo sword blades – the clan members had been enraged. As an example to other scrounging ronin, particularly those without real blades, the clan decided to force Motome to commit seppuku with his own bamboo wakizashi.

Hanshiro tells his own life story. The film shows us some historical background. Thousands of ex-retainers had been thrown out of their positions, made into ronin, by the Shogunate's abolishing of clans. In the rigid class system (samurai, farmers, artisans, merchants), these displaced ex-retainers had no place at all, being forced into marginal subsistence. Most trades (because they required long periods of apprenticeship) were out for most ronin. Many ronin became outlaws or obtained bodyguard positions for gangsters. If law-abiding, they were able to teach in schools for commoner children. Or become piecework artisans; they could contract with wholesalers (who also lent money) to make fans, umbrellas, insect cages, ink brushes, and the like. Even as most ronin had to fend for themselves in this netherworld, they still were to carry the two swords of their original rank, and to uphold their obligations. Hanshiro and his daughter Miho make umbrellas and fans to sell to wholesalers for a pittance; Hanshiro is in debt to one of the wholesalers. Motome teaches commoner children and receives a minimal wage for his work.

Miho and Motome marry and have a son. All goes well until sickness strikes. Miho contracts consumption and the child contracts a fever. Neither Hanshiro nor Motome can afford a doctor. Motome attempts to get a laborer job (which pays more than teaching does) and runs straight into job discrimination: "no starving ronin need apply." Motome sells his sword blades at a pawnshop, obtaining bamboo blades to wear inside his sword fittings, not an uncommon practice; some ronin (and some low-ranked clan samurai) desperately needed money. And yet, the sword was considered to be "the soul of the bushi." A bushi who sold his blades had to appear to wear the badge of his rank. The bamboo blades were available, thus no one would know of the despicable act of having sold his "soul" for money.

But Motome has not received enough; he still cannot afford a doctor. So Motome decides on something more desperate: to appear at a clan gate, with his hidden bamboo blades, in order to request seppuku -- with the actual intention of receiving a handout to get a doctor for his wife and child. The Ii clan officials have decided differently. The scene where Motome must commit seppuku with his bamboo wakizashi is one of the most harrowing scenes ever filmed. Motome is utterly humiliated, surrounded by the Ii clan retainers, with Onodaka Hikokuro, his assigned second preaching on how the sword is the soul of the samurai, the bamboo sword is what is appropriate for Motome, and so forth. While Motome painfully carries forth. Hikokuro refuses Motome's request to cut off his head and end the ritual's mockery, so Motome ends it himself, biting off his tongue.

Hanshiro has realized -- too late -- that he had never dared to even consider selling his own sword blades to help out the family. The scene when he is confronted with Motome's body and the truth of what has happened is truly gut-wrenching, as Hanshiro weeps and slams down his "useless tokens" that he had clung to. Hanshiro reveals his own secret – he has used his "useless tokens" to avenge Motome's death. He has tracked down the three Ii retainers who were most responsible for Motome's death. The final duel between Hanshiro and Onodaka Hikokuro is absolutely stunning. Instead of taking the lives of these three, Hanshiro has taken their topknots. And while Kageyu has preached to Hanshiro about samurai honor, these three swordsmen have hidden themselves away, claiming sickness to cover up their own shame, while their topknots grow back.

Kageyu cannot deal with Hanshiro's revelations. He commands his men to slaughter Hanshiro. Hanshiro fights back gamely, taking four of the Ii clan retainers and wounding several more. In a symbolic scene, he tears down the ancestral armor of the Ii clan. Some Ii clansmen use their rifles against Hanshiro, but Hanshiro sticks his own sword into his belly, committing seppuku as he has pledged to do. In the end, Kageyu fashions a cover-up of the entire event; mysterious plagues have hit the Ii clan and a number of their retainers, including Onodaka, have died of "illness" rather than by the blade of an impoverished hungry ronin.

This film raises many issues. It is Kobayashi's impassioned protest against rigidly militaristic societies that uphold hypocritical codes of "bushido" while disdaining what that term really means. The film is also like a Greek tragedy, with a character (Tsugumo Hanshiro) possessing the tragic flaw of his own pride -- which in the end, he must pay for with his life. Which he does in a heroic way. This film doesn't just recount the oppression of poor people. It shows the strength that these poor people have, the choices that they make as individuals, refusing to just bow down and be mere victims of their society.
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Eventually there is only one valid code of Honor, the Human one...
auberus19 May 2008
Masaki Kobayashi studied art and philosophy before starting as assistant director at Shochiku studio. His oeuvre is guided by the need to understand the human condition. In the 1962 Hara-kiri aka Seppuku, we can clearly see the philosophic influence in this story about confrontation between Human condition and Rigid Code of a feudal society. The result of this confrontation is a multi layered masterpiece in which the clarity of the script, the perfection of the interpretation, and a very well balanced "mise en scène" make for a powerful film based on transgression: a genre transgression, a code transgression and an image transgression.

Most of Shambaras take place during the Edo Period but rather late in that period (just before the Meiji Era) as most filmmakers try to romanticize and glamorize the period which marks the end of the Samurai thus playing the nostalgia card. Here Masaki Kobayashi transgressed the genre and decided to film a story taking place in 1630, 17th century Japan during the Edo period. At that time Japan was ruled by a Shogunate (Ieyasu Tokugawa). The Tokugawa Shoguns established Peace and continued to rule Japan for a remarkable 250 years. But such a long period of Peace had a price and Ieyasu Tokugawa brought the whole country under tight control. He cleverly redistributed the land among the more loyal vassals, breaking up warrior clans thus throwing thousands of samurai into poverty.

In the film an elder ronin, Hanshiro Tsugumo, the hypnotic Tatsuya Nakadai (Goyokin) seeks admittance to the house of a feudal lord to commit the act of Seppuku as he can no longer stand his Life of Dishonor and Poverty. There, the administrator tells him about the fate of a young Samurai who committed the same suicidal ritual few times ago. But there is much more to this story and soon we understand that all protagonists are related one way or another. As the film progresses we witness a confrontation between two conceptions. One is based on a Human code; the other is based on a rigid traditional one.

Masaki Kobayashi uses both symbols and raw images to show this confrontation. The film starts with the Display of a Samurai shining battle armor representing the feudal system. The armor is empty of anything human and strongly symbolized the feudal system. Can a code make sense if it is followed without acknowledging the Human condition? This is in essence the question raised by "Hara-kiri". We see this armor soiled and dragged but at the end of the film the armor remains intact as if nothing had ever happened, as if changes in an given Society take some times to occur. Indeed social Progress has always been slow leaving Men and Women struggling with their condition.

The suicidal ritual, Hara-kiri reinforced the sense of cruelty. Raw images of Ronin opening their stomach with a sword were a transgression at that time (1962), still is today. In the film the ritual is portrayed in a non glamorized way and very realistically. It also symbolizes even for the Japanese audience the lack of sense in the act of Seppuku. In fact Hanshiro Tsugumo is the only one giving meaning to this act by motivating it with mixed feelings of Love, Revenge and Sorrow, in short with humanity.

With the film Hara-kiri, Masaki Kobayashi signed one of the greatest philosophical films. The script by Shinobu Hashimoto is a good example on how to make a story clear but more importantly sufficient enough for anybody to understand the drama, in one word universal. Also writer of Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu aka Samurai Rebellion (1967), Dai-bosatsu tôge (1966) aka Sword of Doom or "Hitokiri" aka Tenchu (1969), Shinobu Hashimoto is among the greatest writers of the 7th Art.

I can not recommend Seppuku enough, every single frame, acting, piece of music is irreproachable. The story is profoundly Humanist, timeless and universal. I suggest we all confront the codes of our respective societies in order to find out if they still make sense or if they are leading us towards a terrible social Hara-kiri
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Seppuku is a movie about the emptiness in the samurai code.
john_billings194 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Seppuku opens up with a shot of the samurai battle armor. Simply a shell with nothing in it at the time. Seppuku reveals the hypocrisy and emptiness in the samurai code and that things are not always as they seem. It challenges traditional belief of honor and what is to be done and simply not to be done. Through the movie the director leads us into belief that Motome is a bad samurai. He is masterless and furthermore unable to provide for his family. It opens up with his preformed seppuku in which everything goes wrong for Motome, we see his as a horrible honor less samurai. Motome comes to the house obviously to beg for food or money. We see that his swords, the soul of the samuari, were sold for bamboo ones. Than he begs for leave seemingly to run away to not have to perform the seppuku. However, things are not as they seem. Hanshiro shows up to the house of the same group. Than, he tells the story as it actually was. Motome was actually trying to provide for his family. He sold his swords for food and comfort for his dieing wife. Then comes to the house to beg for money only so he can afford a doctor for his dying infant son as well. When Motome begs for leave before his seppuku he actually needs time to go back to his family to tell them that he was unsuccessful in getting money and they would have to find other means. What is more just or had more honor, following the samurai code, or trying to save the lives of your dying family members. The writer answers that later in the movie. Hanshiro defeats every samurai that brought his son in law back to him dead by cutting off their top knots. If the house had the honor that they said they did than these three samurai would commit seppuku. None of the samurai do. They fake an illness so their topknot can grow back. The author shows that the samurai honor is really just a front, it is just an image, like the old samurai battle armor. The code represents who they want to be, but the honor is not there. Seppuku is a great story about hypocrisy and fake honor of the samurai code.
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Great movie!!!!!
apollo58617 January 2003
Little did I know that when my teacher said that this movie would be one of the best, if not the best, movies I have ever seen, that he would be telling the truth. I thought the movie was great. I thought `Hara-kiri' was very well written and well developed. I originally thought I was in for another Asian samurai movie filled with sword swinging, kung fu action, but it was so much more than that. It was a movie that shined a light on Japanese traditions and the hypocrisy of those in authoritative places. I really enjoyed the movie. It was one of those movies that if you fell to sleep on it or weren't paying attention you couldn't just fall back in line and think you could still follow the story. There was so much going on that you just wanted to give it all your attention. I enjoyed it because even though it `Die Hard' action packed, it still captured you. To one who knows that `hara-kiri' refers to suicide, you would probably assume that the movie would be grim and coarse. However, it was absolutely the opposite. It was a movie that really helped me to appreciate the strong and noble traditions of ancient Japan.
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Honor and Hypocrisy
tintin-239 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
It would seem impossible that any "samurai" movie could surpass Kurosawa's "Ran," "Kagemusha," or even "Rashomon" in visual impact, masterful storytelling, and moral imperative. However, there is such a film, and it is "Seppuku" ("Harakiri"), produced in 1962, arguably the best samurai movie ever made.

"Harakiri" (1962), as it is known in the West, was directed by one of the post-WWII great filmmakers of Japan, Masaki Kobayashi. This film, considered by many as his masterpiece, won him the International Jury Prize at Cannes in 1965. Unfortunately, Kabayashi is not as well known outside Japan as some other giants of the Japanese cinema. He was very much affected by the war, and his films, contrary to most Japanese filmmakers of the post-war eras, are very political in nature. Kobayashi's films explore the dark side of the Japanese culture, with its wars, corruption, and hypocrisy, and their consequences. His film, "The Thick-Walled Room" (1953), won him the 1956 Peace Culture Prize. His nine-hour trilogy, "The Human Condition" (1959/61), won the International Jury Prize at Cannes 1963, which actually launched his public recognition, presents a scathing critique of the horrors of WWII, experienced first-hand while on the Manchurian front, and later on the Ryukyu Islands. While serving, as a statement of dissent against war, he refused any promotion and remained a private until he was taken prisoner by the U.S. He spent one year in a prison camp before returning to the business of film making, in 1946, until 1952 as an assistant director under Keisuke Kinishita.

In Japan, Seppuku is the formal term for ritual suicide by disembowelment. Harakiri, as it is known in the West, is the common term, which literally means "stomach cutting." It was an integral part of bushido, the code of conduct of the samurai warrior class. Seppuku was ordered by a superior as punishment to redeem some offence, or chosen over a dishonorable death at the hands of an enemy. In both cases, it demonstrated the honor, courage, loyalty, and high moral character of the individual. Except when performed on a battlefield, it was a very formal ceremony, requiring certain etiquette, witnesses and considerable preparation.

Harakiri is a particularly painful and rather messy way of ending one's days. In this ritual, the "performer" opens his abdomen, starting from left to right and then finishing from top toward bottom. But there is so need to be left for hours contemplating one's entrails. Another swordsman acting as a "second," called kaishakunin, is standing by to decapitate the departing at a pre-arranged moment in the ceremony. Lord Ieyasu Tokugawa, who founded Japan's last great shogunate dynasty in 1603, ordered the practice of harakiri to be discontinued by both secondary and primary retainers. Later on, in 1663, a stronger edict from Lord Nobutsuna Matsudaira of Izu, put an end to the practice altogether. By that time, the ritual had become an idle formalism, and the "performer" was decapitated at the instant he took his sword out of the scabbard, thus avoiding a painful death. In some instances, the sword was replaced by a fan.

Hanshiro Tsugomo (Tatsuya Nakadai) comes to the castle of the Iyi Clan to seek revenge for the humiliation and cruel death of his son-in-law, Anjiwa Motome (Akira Ishihama). Kobayashi is a superb storyteller, and in a slow and deliberate rhythm, he develops his story, which could have been taken from the pages of the Iliad or of the Mahabharata. The tension grows, as the Clan members slowly realize that they are in turn being humiliated by this stranger who truly believe in the samurai code of honor: he must be terminated to prevent him to broadcast his truth.

The final duel with the master swordsmen of the Clan, Hikukuro Omodaka, on the Plains of Gojin-in, is like a meditation, a ballet of death. The film ends in a spectacular combat, and the coup de grace to Hanshiro Tsugomo's seppuku is fittingly not applied by a gallant swordsman, but a cowardly platoon of muskets. Even to the end, the samurai honor code has been violated by the Clan.

As Toshiro Mifune has long been associated with the success of Kurosawa's films, so are Kogayashi's films enhanced by the brilliant interpretation of Tatsuya Nakadai (also staring in the leading roles in Kurosawa's "Kagemusha",and "Ran"). This outstanding actor contributed further to the success of this director's films, "Kwaidan" and the "Samurai Rebellion." The screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto is based on a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi The cinematography, by Yoshio Miyajima, in black and white, is gorgeous. Many on the shots are "haiku-like" in the imagery. The musical score, written for an ensemble of ancient instruments and percussion by the renowned classical composer Toru Takemitsu, is used sparingly throughout the film, reinforcing the dramatic moments.

Masaki Kobayashi's film is an indictment of the hypocrisy of the establishment, any establishment, would it be in feudal 17th Century Japan or in any other time. Dogma, on which the establishment's authority rests, is evil. The established, codified order, with all its smoke and mirrors, must be preserved at all costs, and nothing must be allowed to come in its way. It is the duty of each member of any government, organization, church, or brotherhood not to spare any effort and to go to any length to protect the appearances and status quo, to achieve this essential goal of survival. The end justifies the means, and no lie or deceit can be eliminated if this survival is at stake.

Although taking place almost five centuries ago during the Tokugawa Shogunate, this film is also a strong denunciation of the entrenched cultural legacy of coercive rituals, blind obedience, and chauvinism that resulted in the tragedy of the Pacific War.

The outstanding screenplay, the superb acting, the cinematography and editing makes "Harakiri" the best samurai film ever.
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Ninja_Sinai8 January 2007
Well what can I say.. this 1962 movie directed by Masaki Kobayashi is one of the MOST powerful movies I have ever seen in my life! It is really a tremendous example of outstanding film making! The cinematography is absolutely exceptional! However it is the haunting plot of a samurai explaining the meaningless and worthless flawed belief of the samurai spirit which grips the viewer.

Tatsuya Nakadais mighty performance in Harakiri further proves for me, that he is without a doubt one of best actors in the history of film. This man takes on his roles with such prowess that it is easy for the viewer to forget that you have seen him play a different role in another movie.

By the way - The Criterion 2 disk DVD version is mint! An a MUST HAVE in any fans collection.
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A Heartbreaking and Tragic Story of Poverty and Revenge
Claudio Carvalho3 February 2012
In 1630, after a long period of peace in Japan after the end of the clans, thousand of samurais do not have masters and are living in absolute poverty. The ronin Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) and former samurai of Lord of Geishu arrives at the house of Lord Lyi requesting a spot to commit hara-kiri (an honorable form of suicide through self-inflicted disembowelment followed by decapitation under the samurai code).

Tsugumo is received by Umenosuke Kawabe (Yoshirô Aoki), who tells the story of the young samurai Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama) that arrived at the house also asking for a place to commit hara-kiri but expecting to receive coins instead. The warrior Hikokuro Omodaka (Tetsurô Tanba) convinces the clan to force Chijiiwa to really commit suicide using his bamboo blade as an example to other samurais that would appear using the same pretext to receive coins from the master.

Tsugumo discloses that the lad Chijiiwa was his son-in-law that was forced to the situation expecting to raise some money to treat his sick wife and baby son. Further, Tsugumo had arrives in the house expecting to die not committing suicide, but revenging Chijiiwa, his daughter and his grandson.

"Harakiri" is a heartbreaking and tragic story of poverty and revenge in a period when Japan was ruled by the Tokugawa clan and thousand of samurais lost their work with the fall of the clans. This film is a little masterpiece based on the wealthy history and culture of Japan and the screenplay uses flashbacks and gives an explanation of this period of story for those that do not have a minimum knowledge of the history of Japan. The Internet is a useful tool to understand the big picture of this historical moment.

The acting is top-notch and the cinematography in black and white is magnificent. My vote is ten.

Title (Brazil): Not Available
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Definitely an essential film.
SamoanJoes17 June 2015
To say that Seppuku is an incredible film is not only a massive understatement, but a disgrace to anyone who appreciates great cinema. Seppuku, in fact, is one of the finest films I've had the pleasure of watching.

In the early minutes of the film we are introduced to a young samurai who arrives at the abode of a feudal lord. Upon his arrival he reveals that he would like to take part in hara-kiri -- an act in which a samurai will commit suicide witnessed by their peers. It's an act where, once agreed upon, there is no turning back. The feudal lord questions why this specific samurai would want to partake in hara- kiri, but his questions only raise further mystery.

Directed masterfully by Masaki Kobayashi (Kaidan, Samurai Rebellion), he provides over two hours of a gripping samurai tale which remains breathtaking throughout. His action scenes aren't overdone by resorting to quick shots to compensate for a lack of on-screen action. They're done to allow the swordplay feel authentic. It's clear that these scenes were carefully orchestrated as these become the most memorable scenes in the film.

"Seven Samurai" is often regarded as not only the best film to be released in Japan, but one of the finest films of all time, but Seppuku always seems to be cast in its shadow. Seppuku is every bit as good as Seven Samurai but provides a more intriguing story. The comparison seems obvious, but this film deserves to be put on the same lists that Seven Samurai makes year after year.

Coming in at 2 hours and 15 minutes, there are no "filler" scenes that normally bog down longer films. Every scene knows precisely why it's there... because it should be. It does this without it seeming overlong and balances the mystery, drama and action quite nicely.

I rated the film a 10/10 as can be seen on the top but this film is too nice, I'm going to rate it twice.

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42ndStreetMemories12 November 2009
I have seen 6,035 motion pictures in my life. I have seen many of these more than once. I am not boasting. Nor am I proud that not only have I spent so many years of my life in front of a flickering screen but that I actually know the number of films that I have seen.

With that said, "Seppuku" ("Hara-kiri") makes that whole trip worth while. For every hundred pieces of celluloid tripe you can be fortunate to find a diamond in the rough and for me that was my first experience with this Kobayashi masterpiece. Pure enjoyment, pure excitement.

The film is brilliantly constructed and multi-layered in such a way that the film defies genre classification. To call it a "samurai film" is akin to categorizing "Psycho" as a murder mystery. "Seppuku" could easily slide into the mystery, suspense, drama, or western genres and feel right at home. Perhaps an eastern film noir, if you will.

Kobayashi's telling of the tale incorporates elements of despair, tradition, fortitude, revenge but mostly love, pride and honor in a grand visual style.

The story's setting, direction and Tatsuya Nakadai's strong performance invite the inevitable comparison to Kurosawa and his favorite samurai Toshiro Mifune. All are of such high merit that I would propose ignoring the temptation to compare and appreciate the genius involved in "Seppuku".

For those who have not seen "Seppuku" of course I strongly recommend that you do so but I also suggest that you avoid reading any synopsis and take delight in watching the tale unfold.

10/10 (and not too many of the 6,035 are 10's)
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Touching and tough provoking masterpiece.
Suomi_perkele8 October 2006
Seppuku or harakiri is a samurai ritual where an elderly samurai cuts his belly open with a small sword and makes a cross in his flesh. After cutting other samurai cuts his head of to end the pain. And like this a samurai will die honorably.

Seppuku tells a story of one elderly samurai named Hanshiro Tsugumo who has lots of things to tell before his harakiri. He tells a story about his beautiful daughter and her life. You can tell that the other samurais aren't actually very pleased with his story telling because the man just doesn't know when to stop. When Hanshiro finally finishes his stories there won't be his harakiri. No, then a great battle will begin.

The influence of Seppuku in modern cinema is obvious. The final battle sequence is lot like in Kill Bill vol.1. And that's not the only thing that is similar to some movies of this date.

Tatsuya Nakadai does great job in Hanshiro's role and the rest of the cast aren't bad either. Visual aspects of Seppuku are beautiful and the movie itself is very tough provoking. Well it's hard for me to put all into words because of the language barrier but I'll just say this: Seppuku is amazingly deep and beautiful movie which criticizes the mindless samurai ritual they call harakiri. I'm sorry I can't say much - after all I am young and Finish so English doesn't come so naturally for me. But It's easy for me to say - go and watch Seppuku, it's truly a great movie.

Now it's time for me to watch other movies of Masaki Kobayashi.
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Harakiri, the classic Samurai tale.
nicholaslalich5 June 2011
Harakiri is a classic tale of the Samurai, or in this case the Ronin. Masaki Kobayashi does an extraordinary job of incorporating western elements along with typical Japanese humor and vengeance, to deliver one of the key Jidai-Geki films in the history of Japanese cinema. The central idea of the film is to expose the audience to the egotistical, dishonorable side of the samurai, and does so by following Hanshiro (the protagonist) as he calls out the Iyi Clan for disobeying the Bushido Code. Samurai's live off honor, but in a world full of war and violence, this film proves that all morals and honor can be lost, and reveals the sick ways that people go about getting a form of entertainment.
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I love a movie that makes me say "OH SH*T" halfway through
kareem-17 August 2006
Now while I've seen way more than my share of great Japanese samurai flicks, this is the only one I've seen so far that delves head-long into the Japanese culture of "perfection", honor, code and family. As the main character tells his story you feel more for his pain than nearly Kurosawa movie. For years, I thought Akira Kurosawa was the end all for truly great cinema, but after seeing Kobayashi's opus in Seppuku, it is obvious that 1960's Japanese Cinema had two masters.

Seppuku is certainly one of those flicks that makes you say "Oh SH*T" halfway through. A deep and enriching story that just keeps getting better as more of the movie is revealed to you. While it doesn't reveal itself to you in a normal unraveling, but rather with a wonderfully told and filmed flashback (while admiringly very long and drawn out - even characters in the film call it so).

Everything from the beautiful camera work to the acting delivery is absolutely superb. The close-ups within the flick actually deliver a wealth of information about the scenes that spoken words could only touch on. Truly a masterpiece and worth the wait from Netflix.
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A samurai movie which is not really a samurai movie
Johnny M.21 January 2005
What a movie! I watched it knowing nothing but its title, and I think this was good for me. There is no point writing anything about the plot, actually two reviews (including IMDb's one) I read afterward reveal too much of it. I think the director would like to create a progressive change to the viewer's attitude concerning "honor" and "moral". Being Black&White and almost theatrical, it leads you to think rather than watch enchanted by the picture. It is not really a samurai action film, neither a film like "Hero" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (both of which I liked so much, for different reasons), although some scenes have common elements. I know not everybody will like it, it is a bit slow and also cruel but it has a point for both.

The picture was a little blur at times, but I don't know if it was the film's or the cinema's fault. Anyway, it's a 42-year-old film, so that's better than we can expect!

During the intermission,I was wondering which century I live in, so much was I incorporated in the atmosphere!

PS. Do Japanese people really talk with their mouth almost closed?
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Layered Stories in Conflict
tedg4 February 2015
Warning: Spoilers
This has to be the best movie I have seen in a while. Good luck to me that I would like to pass on to you.

We have two warring narrators. The first begins the film as an entry in his journal as local governor of a wealthy country estate. The film is closed with him finishing his entry, some days later. This official narrative deviates from what we see at the end.

His story: one, then a second unattached ronin appeal to commit suicide in their courtyard. The first of these it is plain is just looking to be paid to leave, but our narrator is very strict about cleaving to that ronin's story. If he says he wants to kill himself, well then he must. This poor man had sold his sword and was now carrying bamboo, and it is this that he was forced to use. The resulting death is disturbing.

So midway in the film, we have a samurai who has suffered because he was forced to live his story, forced by the narrator-governor who we later watch not live the story he has created and instead change it to suit.

Now along comes an older samurai with the same request. He is dealt with in the same manner, but insists on telling a story to the assembled household before killing himself. He tells an amazing story: a fall from grace of his master, the dissolution of the household, poverty. His frail daughter and her son lay dying without a few coins for a doctor.

The man's son is his daughter's husband, and it is he that came and was forced to die. The wife and son do as well, shortly after. Details of that death were told by the governor to the elder samurai earlier, though known because of the mocking way the body was returned.

Until now, we have a classic case of warring narrative. We have the captive audience assembled. One storyteller is an official, so much so that he controls the official version of the film's story. The other has power in his gritty, true story.

That story, incidentally is very close to what I consider noir: a random innocent fellow is cast in circumstances that seem full of circumstance and accident. The events of his life are played out not as they would in real life but as they would in a fictional life in a story told by others.

Truth versus power in a struggle for the story of the film, essentially a struggle for the allegiance of the outer audience: us.

The two beings as they face off are perfect in small mannerisms belying tension.

Then slowly, the governor's world explodes as we learn new bits of the elder ronin's story of recent events. Many die.

We (the audience) and control of all the cinematic effects was won by the ronin. Our governor is seen at the end writing the official account to be seen by his master that for his safety eradicates all story on both sides. The main actor, the winner, features in some of Kurosawa's best work as well.
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Enervated samurais living in penury perform the sacred act of Evisceration:- Hara-kiri
Koundinya23 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
While Japanese movies are synonymous to Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune, this movie has neither of them. It's an unprecedented movie that leaves you brood over the plight of the once-great-warriors of the medieval Japan. The movie is aided by brilliant handling of the camera and loud yet powerful background music. The duel between Tsugumo and Omodaka set in the backdrop of plains with bushes ruffling against the gale was the most impressive scenes in the movie.

Samurais, warriors known for their fighting skills and adept wielders of sword, are unemployed and are forced to live in penury after their clans make truce. They even struggle to get a job with workers demanding samurais not be employed. They resort to threatening other clans by saying they'd perform ancient religious practice of Hara-kiri, which is to disembowel oneself, if they are not awarded with a bounty.

One such samurai Tsugumo offers his life to the Lyi clan. He's enlightened with the story of a man who gave exactly the same details as Tsugumo. They narrate the story of a certain Motome, who was so poverty-stricken that he had a bamboo instead of a blade and performs the practice in the most atrocious fashion. Motome's sacrifice served as an example to all those samurais who seek fortune in the name of intimidation to end one's life. Tsugumo confesses he was willing to perform hara-kiri whole-heartedly bu wishes his head be slashed by a great warrior of the clan. The warrior is ill and Tsugumo suggests two more names and all the three men have taken ill. The head of the clan senses Tsugumo's plot to procrastinate. Tsugumo wishes to narrate his story before it's time to enter the other world.

He concedes that he and Motome were acquainted. Motome was his son-in-law, who taught in the neighborhood to earn a living. Stricken by poverty and an ailing wife and neonate son in the house, he fails to find a job and even sells his priced sword to earn a little money. He then heads to the Lyi clan to implore for the money but he's forced into performing Hara-kiri. Without medication and care, Tsugumo's daughter and grandson pass on. Tsugumo enlightens the men of the clan what actually happened to the men who responsible for his son-in-law's death in a way. An exasperated head orders Tsugumo be severed by the swords and pierced by spears. Tsugumo resists for a while, takes the life of 4 and lacerates 8 others before he dies.

The head of the clan orders the 3 absentees be killed by skilled men and cover up all the killings in the name of illness thereby receiving appreciation from the administration.

A 10/10 movie.
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Poetic horror and beauty easily surpassing Kurosawa.
AkuSokuZan20 August 2001
Brilliant! Harakiri is a movie worth buying. If you love films, of any genre you have to see this one at least once (it's characters and story are that universal). Although set during the twilight of the samurai era, Harakiri has a story which can shake the norms of any modern culture anywhere in the world. The secure but lonely life of an old warrior and his daughter are like a house built on sand and when the wind of change blows there is a stench from the injustice and apathy from other samurai who stilll sleep in the illusion of their usefulness. And no, this film is not about revenge, swords and just killing, in fact the action is so concentrated and sudden it's role is to jar the audience out of the spell the director and actors and actresses cast and screams "this is it, it's the end, it's real, and you'll remember every second forever'.
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