is not simply a matter of ritual and technicality. However, samurai who have only known peace
seem to have a tendency to forget the heart and spirit of their code. A ronin with a mysterious grievance intends
to teach a noble house’s conceited retainers a hard lesson in Takeshi Miike’s Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (trailer here), now available on
DVD and BluRay from New Video Group.
there is peace, but the Shogun’s devious maneuverings destroyed a once proud
clan, leaving a glut of impoverished ronin (masterless samurai) at loose
ends. The situation has given rise to a
phenomenon known as “suicide bluffs,” where ronin ask for the use of the House
of Ii’s courtyard to commit ritual seppuku in hopes they might receive a few
coins and be sent on their way instead.
Hanshirô Tsugumo has asked duly asked for such a favor from the head retainer
Kageyu Saitou, but he seems to have his own agenda.
to dissuade him, Saitou tells him the pathetic story of the last ronin who came
cold calling. Tired of indulging suicide
bluffs, Saitou’s arrogant lieutenants forced the desperate young man to
follow-through on his threat, in what quickly becomes a horrific display
bearing little resemblance to any notion of honor. As it happens, Tsugumo already knows the gist
of this tale. In fact, he is well
acquainted with the sad young Motome Chiziiwa, as viewers learn in the next
series of flashbacks.
on the novel famously adapted by Masaki Kobayashi in 1962, Miike’s film is not
called Hara-Kiri for no reason. About the first masterfully tense quarter is
largely dedicated to Chiziiwa’s involuntary disembowelment. While the middle section somewhat suffers in
comparison, Miike nonetheless provides all the necessary context to appreciate
the first and third acts and fully establishes his central characters as sympathetic,
flesh-and-blood figures, particularly Miho, the frail woman linking the two
Hikari Mitsushima is deeply affecting as the ill-fated (who isn’t in a Miike
film?) Miho, a character lightyears removed from the all kinds of scary
schoolgirl-cultist she brought to life in Sion Sono’s Love Exposure. Likewise,
Eita is an aching model of pathos as Chiziiwa.
However, Hara-Kiri really belongs
to the two steely-eyed old dogs circling each other right from the beginning.
kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa (or Ebizo IX) appropriately simmers and seethes like
a seriously hard-nosed, world weary swordsman with a point to make. He is the real deal, commanding every scene
he appears in, which is quite the trick considering he is paired up against Kôji
Yakusho, the international paragon of middle-aged badness, as Saitou. Once again, Yakusho brings gravitas and a
sense of ruthlessness to the proceedings.
While not nearly as crowd-pleasing as his lead role in Miike’s hit 13 Assassins, he makes the most of it.
delivers the hack-and-slash, Hara-Kiri
offers foreboding and tragedy.
Frankly, the latter was far truer to the heroics of the Samurai era,
which Ivan Morris described as the “nobility of failure.” However, the awesomely action-driven Assassins would have been a more logical
candidate to be Miike’s first 3D film, yet that distinction belongs to Hara-Kiri. Regardless, it translates to 2D viewing just
fine. A stately period production that
is amply rewarding on multiple levels, Hara-Kiri
is highly recommended for fans of samurai films and historical dramas in
general. It is available at all online retailers
from New Video Group.
Labels: DVD, Japanese Cinema, Koji Yakusho, Takashi Miike