Harakiri (1962)
April 14, 2024 4:44 PM - Subscribe

Down-on-his-luck veteran Tsugumo Hanshiro enters the courtyard of the prosperous House of Iyi. Unemployed, and with no family, he hopes to find a place to commit seppuku and a worthy second to deliver the coup de grace in his suicide ritual. The senior counselor for the Iyi clan questions the ronin's resolve and integrity, suspecting Hanshiro of seeking charity rather than an honorable end. What follows is a pair of interlocking stories which lay bare the difference between honor and respect, and promises to examine the legendary foundations of the Samurai code.

100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (albeit from only 11 professional critics).

Roger Ebert
: "Opening in a way similar to "Rashomon," in which a man arrives at a gate and begins telling one of four versions of the same story, Kobayashi makes a film where there is only one correct version of the story, but its meaning depends entirely on whose point of view you take. "

Michael Sragow, New Yorker: "The film has a steady, hypnotic momentum; the director, Masaki Kobayashi, wrings as much drama out of facial twitches as he does out of sword fights. He’s helped immensely by Nakadai’s molten performance and Toru Takemitsu’s spare, disquieting music."

Michelle Kisner, The Movie Slueth: "Director Kobayashi was a pacifist and his work definitely has an anti-establishment thread running through it. Hanshiro spends the entire film deconstructing the very idea of Bushido and the meaning of honor. The Ii Clan say they are honorable but their actions do not demonstrate it--they value the appearance of nobility more than actual nobility. Government and authority abusing their power is nothing new, and this subtext makes Harakiri feel relevant even in modern day. In most samurai films they are portrayed as heroes but in Harakiri they are depicted as hypocrites who preach an ideology that they do not follow."
posted by pwnguin (3 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
One of my top three samurai movies. The story, writing, production, acting, everything is superb. I can't say enough, so I won't try!
posted by Stuka at 5:09 PM on April 14 [1 favorite]

After watching a remake, I decided to see how the original compared, and as is often the case, the original was not improved upon. But let us speak no more of imitators.

The film uses a story with a story framing, which serves to compare and contrast Hanshiro and Motome, who largely go through the same actions but with substantially different --but related!-- motivations. Motome wants to save his son's life, while Hanshiro wants to end as many lives as possible, including his own.

As a criticism of bushido and the Edo period, the film holds up fine. Where I feel critics go astray is attributing the film as a metaphor for anything more contemporary. The Iyi clan are not leaders of the Shogunate, so they don't make the best metaphor for any WW2 Emporer, and they're hardly eager for combat. On the other side, our sympathy for Hanshiro, Motome, and Kingo appear to be due to their loss of status, which isn't a great argument for the abolition of samurai. If there's a better parallel, I seem to be too far removed from the history to comprehend it, because surely "the worst thing about Japan's involvement in WW2 was the erosion of the middle class" ain't the message.
posted by pwnguin at 5:21 PM on April 14 [2 favorites]

(just a side note that your tag has a typo. it says Koyabashi instead of Kobayashi)
posted by briank at 6:43 AM on April 15 [1 favorite]

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