Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Harakiri (The Criterion Collection) (1962)

Harakiri(2008 HOLIDAY TEAM)"Hara Kiri" is directly translated as "belly cutting," and is the name best known in the West for Seppuku, a traditional act of suicide that was considered an honorable method of death amongst the Samurai of medieval Japan. To die by Seppuku was a privilege reserved for honorable men, and was formal and ritualized as is common in Japanese tradition. It was an extremely painful way to die, and required absolute will and self-control.

Kobayashi Masaki ("Kwaidan," "Samurai Rebellion"), a master director of Samurai films, uses this ritual as the focus of his film "Hara Kiri" (Japanese title "Seppuku.") The stage is set in the late Tokugawa period, a time when centuries of peace had rendered the warrior class moot, and Samurai without a rich lord to serve had nothing but their honor to sustain themselves. Forbidden by law, culture and training to seek their substance through less-honorable means such as farming or trade, the lordless Samurai were expected to starve and die with no word of complaint. One day, a hungry Samurai by the name of Hanshiro Tsugumo arrives at the gate of a local lord, requesting permission to perform Seppuku and end his suffering poverty through honorable means. And then the true story unfolds.

Probably his greatest film, Kobayashi dissects what it is to be "honorable," and who is the true possessor of this abstract concept. The rigid code of the Samurai is symbolized through the relentless use of straight lines, as hard and unyielding as the swords which are the supposed soul of a Samurai. The code has long outlived its usefulness, and is a contradiction in the world of peace. Both the code and the men are dinosaurs, needing to either change or die.

Hanshiro Tsugumo is played by the legendary Nakadai Tatsuya ("Sword of Doom," "Yojimbo"). He is incredible as Hanshiro, being both the ultimate Samurai ideal and at the same time one who's wisdom and compassion far surpasses those who speak of "honor," relaxing comfortably behind their money and position. Hanshiro's surface is one of acceptance and resolve, a man who has accepted his fate, but underneath is rage and righteous action, hidden and waiting to explode.

The pacing is typical of a Kobayashi film, and follows his pattern of a slow, slow build up that explodes with a violent and unexpected climax. "Hara Kiri," like other Kobayashi films, is a slow fuse leading to a large bomb. Hanshiro's story is complex, and he unfolds it delicately, so that all points are clear to the Lord and his men, as well as the viewers.

Criterion has recognized both the importance and the excellence of "Hara Kiri," and put forth a DVD worthy of the film. Aside from a beautiful transfer and improved English subtitles, they have assembled video interview with Nakadai Tatsuya and scriptwriter Hashimoto Shinobu, as well as an introduction by Japanese-film expert Donald Richie. In print, there is an essay by film scholar Joan Mellen and a re-print of her Kobayashi interview.

Any fan of Japanese film and/or Samurai films simply must see "Hara Kiri." Easily amongst the top 3 or 4 films of the genre, it is a masterpiece by every definition of the word.

"Hara-Kiri," is an absolute classic. It is also one of the 3 greatest [if not greatest] Samurai films of all time. Not only is this a great Samurai film, it is also an outstanding drama. In fact, director Masaki Kobayashi stated that this film was more of an anti-samurai film, and he is correct. I must tread very carefully with this review, as to write too much of this film will destroy it for those of you who have not had the opportunity to see this MASTERPIECE of cinema. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, the film deals with ONE individuals attack against the corruption and arrogance of the state. And in particular, one clan known as the House of Iyi, which is representative of the new unified state of Japan.

This is one of those films that transcends borders and nationalities--for it is universal. By this I mean that the films main protagonist, Hanshiro Tsugomo (Tatsuya Nakadai) represents the individual against the powers that be who are in charge. And in Hara-kiri, Hanshiro is about to give this House of Iyi a costly lesson in humility, with a touch of vengeance thrown in--that this clan's own arrogance has brought upon themselves. The period that this film takes place is circa 1630: not too long after Lord Tokugawa has established the Shogunate as the supreme power in the now unified Japan.

However, unification comes with a price. In order to consolidate his power, Tokugawa has purged many of the clans spread throughout Japan of their status. Therefore, many clans begin to fold up, and their Samurai must eke out a living within the confines of a profession befitting a samurai. This was very difficult to do, as farming was not acceptable to their Bushido code. Therefore, many of these former samurai found themselves starving since there were very few occupations they were allowed to do. The now masterless samurai are referred to as Ronin. Without the clan, and near starvation, many samurai wandered the country in search of work with another clan in the hopes of securing employment.

Yet, with so many ronin roaming the country, and many clans now purged by Tokugawa, work was a near impossibility. Which brings us to our main protagonist in the film: Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) in his most celebrated role to date. The films narrative begins with Hanshiro Tsugumo coming to the gates of the House of Iyi. Hanshiro Tsugumo is a proud man, yet something has occurred recently that brings him to this particular clan which boasts of its honor and courage. He has asked for permission to commit Hara-kiri in the courtyard of this House. It is here that the Counselor of this clan, Kageyu Saito (Rentaro Mikuni) proceeds to tell Hanshiro Tsugomo of another samurai who also wanted to commit Hara-kiri in this courtyard.

But there is something very different about this ronin Hanshiro Tsugumo. As the Counselor relates his story of this other ronin, Hanshiro listens intently---for Hanshiro too has a story to relate to this Counselor in charge of the House of Iyi. Hanshiro has not just come to this clan to commit Hara-kiri, there are more profound reasons why he has come to this House. And it is here that film begins with the telling of a story of poverty and sadness which has occurred in Hanshiro's life. Hanshiro Tsugumo has come to the manor of the house of Lord Iyi, not only to seek permission of this Counselor to commit Hara-kiri on this clans property, but to lecture this clan.....and WOW, how he lectures them.

The Counselor of the Iyi clan, Kageyu Saito, is in charge--as the Lord of this Domain is away on business. And it is here that Hanshiro Tsugumo recounts a tale to this Counselor on the fate of his beloved son-in-law, daughter and grandson. You can sense the resentment of Hanshiro Tsugumo as he sees the hypocrisy of those around him. Hanshiro understands that the Bushido code, like the samurai, have changed. And with this, the film builds to an ever greater climax. I don't wish to spoil this film for you, so I will not go any further, other than to write that this film belongs in EVERY cinema lovers collection.

Whether you like samurai, or foreign films in general, this film is POWERFUL. I have seen this film more times on the big screen, and video, than any other I have seen. And I NEVER tire of viewing the film. This is a MASTERPIECE of a film. As a warning to viewers who have not seen this film--DO NOT view the Donald Richie interview in the beginning of the film, as he gives away important parts of the film. Also, there is a terrific booklet that comes with this film, and you should read it---but only after you have seen the film. Once more, this is one of the GREATEST films in cinema. And it is one of my personal favorites. The film is a must see. Highly, highly recommended. [Stars: 5 plus infinity]

Buy Harakiri (The Criterion Collection) (1962) Now

After Japan emerged from its civil wars in the early 17th century, many clans were banned by the victorious Tokugawa Shogunate. Thousands of samurai warriors who knew the arts of war but precious little else suddenly found themselves thrown out onto the street.

HARAKIRI tells of the chain of events set into motion when a destitute samurai goes to one of the remaining clans and offers to commit suicide according to the harakiri ritual. His real intent was to get a handout once the Iyi clan elder had seen his determination. This clan, however, had been hit up by other samurai in similar straits. The elder praises him and immediately has him prepare for suicide by disembowelment. When the young samurai requests a delay, the elder insists he begin immediately.

I do not want to ruin the picture for anyone by giving anything away. Some time later (though earlier in the film, which skips around with the chronological story), the young samurai's father-in-law -also a samurai -shows up at the gate making the same request. This time the samurai is the redoubtable Tatsuya Nakadai. His intention is revenge, and he damned near lays waste to the entire clan to attain it.

Kobayashi's direction of this elegant wide-screen epic may seem to be stodgy and talky at times, but the tale it tells will curdle the marrow of your bones. There is relatively little swordplay until Nakadai produces three small items from the folds of his kimono resulting in an all-against-one battle royal.

This is one of the greatest of all the samurai films. No Jacobean revenge tragedy by Cyril Tourneur or John Webster can hold a candle to it in its ferocity. Kobayashi's film is Shakespearean in its breadth and holds up well to multiple viewings. This is a letterboxed print, so you see ALL the action.

Read Best Reviews of Harakiri (The Criterion Collection) (1962) Here

this is definitely one of the best classic movies, not just in samurai genre, out of the great japanese movie production industry.

what a sad story yet so sublime. the 'bushido' tradition in some way was just a malicious and vicious manipulation mean from the powerful the rich to force their retainers die for some big yet hollow bondage. it's the same like the ancient egypt, when their phorah died, almost all of his wife, concubines, slaves had to be buried alive in the pyramid with him. like chin dynasty in ancient china, forced hundreds even thousands to be buried alive with his corpse.

samurai to commit harakiri with bamboo blade sword was such a horrible scene to be watched.

this is a great and very very sad story to be hauntingly told in black and white.

looking back to the japanese movies produced in the golden years of the 60s and 70s, then looking at the movies produced nowadays by the japanese movie producers and directors, what a day and night difference. under the brainless and illogical influences of the animation, the video games and the comic books polluted japan and the world, nothing could be fairly compared to what they've achieved in the 60s. what a shame that japanese movie industry still failed to realize such miserable loss so far.....

this movie is not just great, it's hauntingly great.

Want Harakiri (The Criterion Collection) (1962) Discount?

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 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 swordfights, 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.

Five stars is not enough to rate it.

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