Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Rentaro Mikumi, Shima Iwashita
Duration: 135 min.
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.
Harakiri is a film directed by Masaki Kobayashi, the followup to his epic Human Condition Trilogy. It premiered in competition at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival winning the Special Jury Prize, tying for the award with Vojtech Jasný's The Cassandra Cat.
Once again casting Tatsuya Nakadai in the primary role, Kobayashi delivers a tragic human tale set in the 17th Century Edo period. In a time of peace for the Tokugawa shogunate, the destitute ronin, Hanshiro Tsugumo arrives at the estate of the Iyi clan, requesting to use their courtyard to commit seppuku to end his disgraceful and pointless existence. He is granted permission to do so, but before he goes through with the ritual, he tells his life story to the Iyi clan retainers. Through a series of narrative voice-over and flashbacks, his ulterior motive is slowly revealed.
It's a masterfully crafted picture from start to finish. Kobayashi's use of wide angle black and white cinematography is splendid, framing his sets perfectly, especially the immaculate white pebbled garden where the bulk of the film takes place. Tatsuya Nakadai's performance is spot on, in close-ups the steely gaze on his grizzled face betray no hint of his internal feelings, until he is ready to do so. It's also a treat to behold the steadily mounting tension developed by the slow but purposeful screenplay. The impact of which is felt with full impact at the exhilarating climax of the film.
Despite its setting, the theme of Harakiri is a departure from that of the usual action packed chambara film. Instead of glorifying samurai as honor bound adventuring heroes, this takes a more thought provoking and humanistic approach, taking a critical stance towards the often hypocritical traditions where the rules are applied unevenly depending on one's station. An universal message that can be transposed to practically any culture or era.
A gripping and brilliantly spun tale that points out some not so glorious aspects of feudal life. Led by an always intense showing from Tatsuya Nakadai, who is just as impressive here with or without his sword drawn. I highly recommend watching this one before the release of Takashi Miike's upcoming remake.
— Bonjour Tristesse