HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI. Starring Ebizo Ichikawa, Koji Yakusho, Hikari Mitsushima, Eita, Munetaka Aoki. Directed by Takashi Miike. 126 minutes. Rated MA 15+ (Strong themes and violence).
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai has a strong reputation, especially with the career of the director, Takashi Miike and his films like 13 Assassins and his quite different treatment of a samurai story. The film is a remake of the 1962.
This is rather a stately film, a film about the Samurai traditions and their meaning rather than a display of samurai battles and sword contests. There is something towards the end but, even then, as the hero fights with a bamboo sword, it is something of a parody and a critique.
In fact, the action takes place in the 19th century, 1617-1634, a long period of peace where warriors have little or no place in society, where they have become impoverished with no possibilities of employment.
The film opens with a samurai coming to the local lord to gain permission to kill himself in the official’s courtyard. With the focus during the opening credits on past Samurai glory and icons, it is clear that there is a questions about hara-kiri, considered a most worthy suicide, and its place in the honour and glory tradition of Japan. (And its continuing history even to the kamikaze pilots of World War II.)
The official decides to tell the warrior the story of a young Samurai who had previously asked for the same privilege. This occasions a flashback to the young man, his story, his plea for some money for his wife and child and the issue of whether a samurai can bluff authorities for gain or not – and whether he deserves to die.
The older Samurai listens to the story and takes us on a more detailed flashback of the young man’s story, his status, his marriage, his sick wife and baby and his desperate plea to the official.
It is here that the Samurai takes his stand, challenging authority and tradition – and some scenes of martial swordsmanship.
This means that the film is more a portrait of characters, interactions, emotions as well as the challenge to authority and tradition.
The film looks beautiful, stately, as noted before. It is a film of shots that last longer than might be expected, asking the audience to reflect on what they see and on what they think.
It was post-produced in 3D – not very necessary – which means that when it is projected it may be too dark because of the process and the glasses and it is better to watch it in its 2D print, or remove the glasses while watching.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out: March 21, 2013