Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Harakiri (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)
Harakiri • Seppuku 切腹 (1962)

Genre: Drama
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Rentaro Mikumi, Shima Iwashita
Language: Japanese
Duration: 135 min.
Rating: 9.0  

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. 

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

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

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)

Harakiri • Seppuku (1962)


murtazaali said...

What can I say about Harakiri?  Under the siege of your gripping review, I finally resorted to the wonders of Cinema Kobayashi. And what did a get? Well, it would be an understatement to say that I was rewarded. In fact, the movie far exceeded my most ambitious expectations. I got glued to the screen from the inception to the finale. The time switching ( imparted trough the flashback narrative) vaguely reminded me of Citizen Kane and to some extent of Rashomon. I think that is movie is tremendously underrated compared to some other Samurai movies of its time. While I am quite apprehensive about the prospects of a worthy remake, I would still be willing to give a chance to Takashi Mike's rendition. 

I congratulate you for your continuing service to cinema as well as the cineastes worldwide. Keep the juggernaut rolling!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I'm glad you decided to watch this, and even more so that you loved it. Kobayashi is such an underrated director, and Tatsuya Nakadai is always so brilliant in his films.

Thanks for the comment Murtaza, and if you want to see another similarly amazing chanbara film from him, check out Samurai Rebellion.

Chip Lary said...

This is a great movie and I agree that it is different from most of the other samurai movies of the period in the way that it treats the subject.  The build up to the ending is both inexorable and filled with tension.

Michael Parent said...

I love Kobayashi's Cinema. An artist and a perfectionist! Sadly, I haven't seen Harakiri but your review makes me want to order it rightaway!

d_4 said...

The plot didn't get to me, the trailer didn't get to me, this time it was all you. And at a 9.0? Can't turn away.

The Reel Foto said...

awesome story and another awesome poster. :)

G said...

Sounds a great film...it's about time I had a samurai movie night 

My 2 Pesos said...

This is a very good movie.  Facebook Twitter

John said...

This is my favorite samurai movie ever. I like Miike but had no clue he was re-making this. That's not good at all.

Hoi-Ming Ng said...

It's been a loooong time but woot! I have seen this one!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yep that would be the Takashi Miike remake.  I look forward to your review.

FrontRoomCinema said...

wow this looks stunning....has it been remade? I am going to see Hara Kiri on thursday at the festival...?

The Angry Lurker said...

I enjoyed this movie but would not watch it again.

Damian Wei said...

This movie sounds familiar. Where have I seen this plot before...

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I'm glad you agree, the tension he manages to set up with hardly any action, and practically no movement from the protagonist (save for the flashbacks) until the last act is incredible.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

You won't be disappointed.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yeah the plot doesn't sound very amazing, but the acting and directing are perfect.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Yep he has some mighty big shoes to fill here.

murtazaali said...

Thanks for the suggestion! 
I will surely get my hands on it asap.

First Ran, then Kagemusha, and now Harakiri, Nakadai is quickly catching up on my list of all time favorite actors. I would definitely love to watch more of his movies.

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