on January 1, 2007
"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]