DVD/ Blu-ray Review: Harakiri (1962 – Masters of Cinema)
Winner of the 1963 Special Jury Prize at Cannes – A masterclass in filmmaking!
Directed by master filmmaker Makati Koboyashi, Harakiri stars Tatsuya Nakadai as masterless samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo. The film is set in 17th – century Japan, a time of peacefulness which has resulted in many feudal warriors becoming masterless and having to commit harakiri (ritual suicide) at clan estates. Those that do not honour this code face poverty and hunger since the law prohibits them from serving another lord without the consent of their previous master.
Here lays the destiny of Hanshiro whose request to commit harakiri at the Iyi estate is met with much speculation since another ronin by the name of Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama) had arrived on the premises several weeks previous with the same request. Realising that the two swords Motome was carry were replicas made from bamboo, the clan determined he must be trying to deceive them and demanded he perform the ritual with his small bamboo sword or be slain as a coward – his death by sword is a slow and painful one.
Hanshiro assures the clan that his request to commit harakiri is genuine and that he is not a fraud. He then proceeds to tell the high retainer and the other members of the Iyi clan about the circumstances that brought him to their estate.
Adapted from Yasuhiko Takiguchi’s novel by screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, Harakiri is a film of revenge that demoralises authority and demolishes the romanticism associated with the strict bushido code. It is very much an anti-samurai picture in that sense, illustrating that the warrior’s cipher of honour and nobility is defective, revealing a lack of human decency and a concealment of corruption within the institution. Any notion the viewer may have had of the idealism of the way of the warrior will be completely abolished, or at the very least, tarnished. Ironically, however, even though the film dispels many of the myths of the samurai, it is so beautifully made that audiences’ appreciation for films about these fierce Japanese warriors will surely thrive.
Everything about this film is impressive: The Shakespearian-like narrative; the music score; the visuals, which include a sufficient amount of wide-angle shots that marvellously exemplify the set pieces; and the performances. Nakadai delivers a powerful portrayal of the rugged ronin, executing intense facial expressions which no amount of dialogue could ever compensate. Likewise, Ishiarma’s depiction of the hapless ronin is played with much sincerity – Motome’s disembowelment with a bamboo sword is quite literally gut-wrenching. The fight scenes are few but very realistic and beautifully choreographed.
Without a doubt, Harakiri is Koboyashi greatest achievement as a director and is quite simply one of the greatest Japanese films of all-time!
DUAL FORMAT RELEASE INCLUDING BLU-RAY AND DVD VERSIONS OF THE FILM
• New, officially licensed, Shochiku high-definition transfer (1080p on Blu-ray)
• New and improved English subtitle translation
• Original theatrical trailer
• Excerpt from a 1993 Directors Guild of Japan interview with Masaki Kobayashi discussing the film with director Masahiro Shinoda
• An illustrated 28-page booklet featuring a new essay by film critic Philip Kemp, a 1963 interview with Kobayashi, and rare archival production stills
Released on 26th September 2011 by Eureka Entertainment