Hara-Kiri Death of a Samurai
Miikeís tale of two men trying to save their family is incredibly
difficult to watch. Early on in the piece, weíre confronted by a scene
in which one of the key characters attempts to impale himself with a
blunt wooden sword- painfully, repeatedly. Not a lot of gore is
displayed, but itís the fact that this man has been driven to such an
unnatural and brutal act that shocks you.
story takes place in 17th century Japan, where a sustained
period of peace has caused many Samurai warriors to fall into poverty,
becoming penniless and masterless Ronin.
start of the film, a Ronin named Tsugumo presents himself to a local
Lord. Ashamed that he cannot find work, he requests permission to use
the Lordís courtyard to commit Hara Kiri, or ritual suicide, and thereby
retain some of his warriorís honour.
met with fear and suspicion however, as this is not the first time the
Lordís retainers have been met with such a request. Courtesy of a
flashback, we learn that another young man came to them under identical
circumstances- a situation that quickly turned into a tragedy.
first half-hour of Hara Kiri is powerful and provocative, raising many
questions and successfully drawing you into the narrative. The downside
of this is that the bulk of the film, told through another flashback,
canít keep up this level of intensity. The story and the concepts behind
it are intriguing, but theyíre drawn out for an unreasonable amount of
time. The real problem is that all the puzzle pieces will have come
together in your head long before the events are actually portrayed on
screen, and by halfway through the film youíll be left with no doubt as
to how things are going to turn out. Itís like watching a train wreck in
Essentially, Hara Kiri is a tale about the personal versus the
impersonal. At one point in the film, Tsugumo pleads with the Lordís
retainers to show some humanity. His opponent scoffs angrily at this
concept, almost as if heís offended by the idea. This one exchange sums
up the theme of the entire movie.
familyís decline into poverty and tragedy, victims of circumstance and
the oppressive íhonourí system that theyíre all bound to.
a giant budget, Hara Kiri still manages to build a believable
world. The appearance of the film is very bleak, with a colour palette
dominated by brown and grey, helping to create a subdued atmosphere.
Takashi Miike often uses environmental effects to heighten the mood of a
scene, such as snow to symbolise impending death.
particularly eerie and poetic when snow begins to fall on Tsugumo and
the enraged samurai gathering around him in total silence, leaving you
to dread what is coming next.
Performances all around are good, but Ebizo Ichikawa is especially
affecting and charismatic as the head of the beleaguered family- his
performance is the glue that holds the whole thing together.
sort of movie that you ponder over, rather than celebrate; a sobering
and heart-rending tragedy. Like all good historical dramas, much of what
it says is relevant and applicable to the modern world.