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Awesome: 26.32%
Worth A Look73.68%
Average: 0%
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2 reviews, 7 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"Thankfully, the title does not describe the experience."
4 stars

I never really got the whole suicide concept; I tend to fall into the "all life is precious" and "where there's life, there's hope" camp. "Hara-Kiri" touches on the situation where it starts becoming comprehensible to me, the "n cannot survive but n-1 can" Cold Equations scenario. You don't have to understand or approve of suicide to be moved by the drama of "Hara-Kiri", though: You just need to recognize cruelty and hypocrisy.

As the opening narrative crawl informs us, there was a surplus of samurai in 1630: As the abolition of one clan and general peace among the others left the employment prospects for those without masters dire, many lived in poverty. One such ronin is Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tasuya Nakadai), who comes to the Iyi clan's stronghold to request the use of the grounds and a swordsman to commit seppuku. The retainer who meets him rolls his eyes and mumbles "another one?"; after the clan leader was moved enough by one man's story to offer him a position, many insincere ronin have made the same request, hoping to at least be sent away with money. Retainer Saito (Rentaro Mikuni) warns Tsugumo that there will be no payoff this time, but Tsugumo says he knows, and relates the story of how he came to this position - a story which soon indicates that Tsugumo's plans go beyond killing himself.

The narrative structure of Hara-Kiri is nested, starting out with an omniscient narrator who describes how the Iyi clan's logbook for a specific date noted an unusual event before flashing back to that date, where we meet Tsugumo and he starts narrating earlier events. Saito tells stories, too, and we occasionally see the same events from both perspectives. It's not a different version of what happens, as in Roshomon; it's simply a matter of giving the audience new context, fleshing characters out. The initial shots of the movie aggrandize the samurai code the way Western films may romanticize medieval Europe with knights in shiny armor riding on white horses; Over time, the film breaks that down, showing how a rigidly formal society winds up hurting the honorable men in it, while dishonest and hypocritical men flout the rules.

Director Masaki Kobayashi handles the jumping back and forth between points of view and points in time deftly. It's a very easy trick to abuse; telling a story out of order can often be a cheap trick to hide information that would otherwise make the proceedings too straightforward and apparently simplistic to the audience. Here, it's a way to manipulate our perspective; we initially see things from the point of view of the many anonymous Iyi clan retainers listening to to Tsugumo's story; as new information comes forward to change our perspective and sympathies, it comes in a natural way: It's not something that the on-screen characters should be presumed to know; we learn it as they do.

Kobayashi - along with writers Shinobu Hashimoto and Yasuhiko Takiguchi and his crew - get a lot of credit for the delivery of Tsugumo's best "line"where he throws some things out into the middle of the floor with an accusatory glance that is far more damning than mere words could hope to be; it's a great intersection of cinematography, editing, and sound that twists the movie perfectly. That's not meant to diminish Tatsuya Nakadai's performance at all, though. Consider that Nakadai has still been active in elder-statesman roles fairly recently while this film was released in 1962, and it becomes clear that Nakadai is playing an older man, as he frequently did. As usual, he projects the wisdom and knowledge of an older man, but with youthful vitality when the time to break out the swords comes.

The rest of the cast is good, but not quite in Nakadai's league - though, to be fair, they don't have nearly the same opportunity to shine.. Mikuni, for instance, spends much of the film as the audience's surrogate, though he does get a moment of viciousness that will take the audience off-guard. Akira Ishihama is fine as Motome Chijiiwa, the young ronin whose death sets this series of events in motion, as is Shima Iwashita as his sickly wife. Yoshio Aoki, Ichiro Nakaya, and Tetsuro Tamba bring the requisite arrogance as corrupt retainers.

By the end of the twisty narrative, the noble formality of a bygone era looks much less appealing. It's one thing to enjoy the past and its simple morality as a place to set a story; "Hara-Kiri" counts on that. It's quite another, though, to imagine really living there.

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originally posted: 02/08/06 03:32:49
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User Comments

7/05/10 Ruby Grad Excellent movie. Beautiful cinematography, engrossing story, historically enlightening. 5 stars
3/14/07 elizabeth ppl this movie is the boommm you should see its long but you have to have patience though 5 stars
5/22/04 Ben Luky for me I was able to know about the movie and saw it. It's one of the best film I saw! 5 stars
11/22/03 Charles Tatum Slow but your mom 4 stars
10/25/03 Brock Landers A riveting look at both the myth and reality of the samurai code 4 stars
7/24/03 Kasia the movie is absolutely amazing, long shots, slow pace, music that makes you shiver 5 stars
7/11/03 Ron Johnson Incredible! Riveting cinema with beautiful cinemaphotography. A must-see film for any fan 5 stars
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  02-Feb-1964 (NR)
  DVD: 23-Aug-2005



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