starring Ebizo Ichikawa, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima, Naoto Takenaka
screenplay by Kikumi Yamagashi, based on the novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi
directed by Takashi Miike
by Walter Chaw Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 masterpiece Harakiri is the height of austere--almost Noh--Japanese filmmaking. It lands somewhere between Ozu's pillow flicks and Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, and, of course, as Kobayashi is the auteur behind the Human Condition trilogy, that martial austerity, that antiestablishment mien, is to be expected, if impossible to ever truly gird oneself against. It's set in 1630, at the end of feudal Japan, when collapsing fiefdoms mean throngs of ronin overflowing into the countryside and, occasionally, asking for the right to commit ritual suicide in an "honourable" courtyard. Tsugumo is one such samurai, but before he's granted the privilege of dragging a sword across his belly, House of Iyi counsellor Saito insists on telling him of a previous penitent, Chijiiwa, who claimed he wanted to kill himself but only really wanted a handout. Seeking to make an example of Chijiiwa and the effrontery he represents to the Bushido code, the Iyi clan decides to force the issue--even after it's revealed that Chijiiwa has, somewhere along the way, pawned his iron for a bamboo stick with a hilt. It's a kind of torture, and everyone watches. Kobayashi goes into flashback, unexpectedly, telling the story of the young samurai we, at first, are complicit in mocking. We participate in his torture. We believe he deserves it. By the end of the film, we don't believe that anymore.