Sunday, September 12, 2010

HARAKIRI (1962) - Masaki Kobayashi

Don't let the gruesome picture fool you. Although this classic Japanese samurai flick concerns seppuku in the name of honor, it's more a film about the machinations of the mind than the wrenchings of the gut.

When the latest in a series of disgraced, master-less and penniless samurai shows up at the local daiymo's compound asking to commit harikari on his premises, the lord decides to call his bluff and urges him to go through with it. It seems past samurai have been disingenuous in their suicidal resolve and were really looking for penny handouts or lowly guard jobs given in pity. Current samurai Tsugumo has no such pity party in mind. What he's got is a Rashomon-caliber story to tell and an eye on revenge. He's fully-prepared to use his blade and not just on himself.

An alternative title for this film could have been House of Suicide Games, and at times it even has the feel of a modern Mamet play with everyone trying to out-con one another. But the currency in question here is honor, which no one seems to deserve when all is said and done. Harakiri is not just a samurai film or a suicide film -- it's razor-edged critique of the whole hero code and its bloody place in Japanese history. Like the empty suit of armor that adorns the lord's chambers, the concept might just be a hollow vessel.

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