Harakiri (aka Seppuku)
Harakiri (aka Seppuku)
(Masaki Kobayashi, 1962)
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster
Summary: 'Harakiri' with its breathtaking use of widescreen and gripping narrative is a true samurai masterpiece. Essential Japanese cinema.
'Harakiri', visually, is an incredible film. I only saw the DVD from this DVD/Blu-ray dual-format set but that ranked as one of the most pristine standard-def discs I've seen, defying the film's near half a century age. The Blu-ray, from the ever-dependant Masters of Cinema range, will look marvellous I'm sure. And this is a film that uses its cinematography to full effect.
Along with John Ford, Sergio Leone and David Lean, Masaki Kobayashi is a true master of the lens. This film is a perfect showcase. Filling his frames elegantly with great depth, detail and impeccable set-ups, Kobayashi elegantly creates the world of 17th century Japan – a time when the Shogun warrior clans were dissolved, leaving samurais with no masters and no job befitting their years of training and discipline.
Using a flashback narrative not unlike Kurosawa's 'Rashomon' to reveal the twists, establish a backstory and probe the themes of truth and honour, 'Harakiri' sees the down and out ronin Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) visit the manor house of a lord, requesting to commit hara-kiri/seppuku (ritual suicide) on his property as he no longer has anything to live for.
The strict, manipulative owner of the house is sceptical and proceeds to tell Hanshiro what happened to the last samurai who asked such a request when all he really wanted was money out of pity. However, Hanshiro has a story of his own that questions the honour of all involved…
To say any more would spoil the rich story, but I will complement the swordfight between two ronins towards the end of the film. It's use of a graveyard, bamboo forest and, ultimately, a windswept field is absolutely remarkable. Lovers of Japanese cinema will find this release to be truly essential.
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