The UHF of the film world.
Latest news

Marina Antunes [Film Festival 10.11.11] Japan review drama

Year: 2011
Director: Takashi Miike
Writers: Kikumi Yamagishi, Yasuhiko Takiguchi
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Marina Antunes
Rating: 7 out of 10

For his follow-up to last year's excellent 13 Assassins (review), Takashi Miike has opted to stay within the samurai genre though this time around, he's focusing his energy on the other end of the spectrum.

Adapted from Yasuhiko Takiguchi's novel (which has already seen one cinematic adaptation in Masaki Kobayashi's fantastic Harakiri), Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai steers mostly clear of large scale action sequences (or for that matter, action sequences of any sort) to focus its attention on a story of honor.

Times are peaceful and many ronin are unemployed and impoverished. In desperation, some have been approaching great houses requesting the use of their courtyards to commit ritual suicide but secretly, they're hoping for pity and a few coins to go away quietly or even better, perhaps even be offered a job. Hanshiro is an aging ronin who makes a similar request at House of Li but what the masters of the great house don't realise is that Hanshiro isn't there for himself but rather to exact revenge for his son-in-law who months before had come begging at the House of Li and was forced by the clan lord Kageyu to commit hara-kiri even when it was revealed that the young ronin was carrying wooden swords.

Once Kageyu retells the events that unfolded at his great house when Motome came begging, Hanshiro thinks back to the older events and in flashback we see the young Motome marrying Hanshiro's daughter, their fall on hard times and the lengths to which Motome would go to provide for his family, even selling his treasured swords to provide food and medicine for his ailing wife and child. It's a sad tale of honor and the circumstances that lead one to make difficult choices.

The best aspect of both films and I assume, the original story, is the way in which the events unfold. The fact that we're not privy to the events that led Motome to the House of Li to begin with have us questioning his honor but once we know what led him there, one can't help but wonder why he didn't fully explain himself to begin with and it brings into question to idea of honor and if there are some things that are more important than blindly following an unspoken law, even one as . It's not a new concept but it's one that this story, in both instances, delivers with great effectiveness.

Miike's film is a beautiful and controlled tale which explores ideas not only of honor but also of family and responsibility sadly, it does so in a largely forgettable fashion. Miike's take on the story doesn't bring anything new to the already rich tale and even with the great performances from both Yakusho Koji and Ebizo Ichikawa, I found myself wanting to see the original. It certainly didn't help that the 3D added nothing of interest to the story and I found it particularly difficult to focus on the subtitles.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is a beautiful tale which takes its time to develop before exploding in a wonderful action sequence. This is a very different approach to the samurai tale, one that is much less action focused than other films but those unfamiliar with the story are in for a treat with Miike's quiet and assured tale while fans of Kobayashi's, myself included, may find themselves underwhelmed with Miike's effective but largely uninspired take on an already familiar story.

You might also like


(10 years ago) Reply

The original 1962 "Hara-kiri" by director Masaki Kobayashi was a masterpiece telling the story of an honourable man fighting against the entrenched corruption of feudal Japanese high society.
So, it's somewhat ironic that this inferior re-make stars an arrogant and rather dishonourable actor, Ebizo Ichikawa, in the lead role - Ebizo being the man who escaped any real punishment for his part in a disgraceful bar-room brawl last year because of his - wait for it - family connections to Japanese high society. Not so much a tragedy as a farce.

Leave a comment