Classic Review – Harakiri (1962)

Title – Harakiri (1962)

Director – Masaki Kobayashi (Beautiful Days)

Cast – Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Tetsurô Tanba, Masao Mishima, Shima Iwashita

Plot – As Japan enters a time of peace and harmony, Samurai warrior’s across the land act out the suicidal ritual known as Harakiri. Arriving at a clan’s house to commit such an act, samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo’s (Nakadai) request to perform Harakiri hides a devastating secret.

“What befalls others today, may be your own fate tomorrow”

Review by Eddie on 27/10/2020

Firmly entrenched in movie bible IMDB’s Top 250 Films of All-Time list, Masaki Kobayashi’s anti-samurai film remains to this day a stunningly crafted achievement that subverts its genre’s expectations to give us a samurai film that favors talking and mystery over sword play and sensationalising.

Set in the 17th century where newfound peace in the Japanese landscape has forced many samurai warriors that were previously hired for their bloodthirsty skill-sets to be forced out of work and large portions of them seeking to perform a ritual suicide known as seppuku, Harakiri (named for its referencing of this suicidal act) introduces us to a samurai clan working in the house of Lord Lyi as the clan plays host to a humiliating act of the seppuku of a young warrior that eventually leads to the arrival of the mysterious Hanshiro Tsugumo who too seeks to perform his last act in the house.

Played out at a quiet but steady pace, Yoshio Miyajima steady camera work capturing every moment and Tôru Takemitsu’s unnerving and perfectly suited score working alongside it, Harakiri is one of the era’s most proficiently constructed affairs that may at times seem as though its headed for predictable outcomes only to change course unexpectedly throughout as its heartbreaking and confronting narrative takes place around Tatsuya Nakadai’s tortured and determined Hanshiro.

Working as both an unflinching examination of the samurai code and also as an exploration of post Japanese sentiment in the aftermath of their countries moving forward in the wake of World War 2 and their acceptance of long-forged laws, regulations and traditions, Harakiri evolves from its seemingly simplistic set-up to become an allergy and nuanced deep-dive into the countries history while at all times remaining a haunting character examination.

Steering well clear of the over acting and hastily put together aspects that haunted many other similar productions and products of this era in general, Kobayashi’s guiding hand help craft Harakiri into an ageless and captivating piece of movie-making, with the underrated Nakadai delivering one of Japanese cinema’s great leading turns and the collective supporting cast all bringing their characters to life with carefully considered and well attuned performances.

Unafraid to explore its dark themes and moments (a drawn out and horrifying suicide at the hand of a bamboo sword is still hard to sit through in today’s more tolerant environment), Harakiri is deserving of its lauded reputation, even if many other higher profile “samurai” themed films outshine it in the general public spectrum.

Final Say – 

A film best watched with as little knowledge as possible leading into it, Harakiri is a powerful and confronting piece of Japanese cinema that has remained relevant and required viewing these many years on since its release.

4 1/2 bamboo knives out of 5 

5 responses to “Classic Review – Harakiri (1962)

  1. This is one of my favourite films of all time (I’m a huge fanatic of Japanese cinema)! Glad you liked it.

    I really recommend Kwaidan, his horror movie, and The Human Condition, his anti-war saga (yes it’s a three part saga that spans almost 10 hours but it is PHENOMENAL).

    If you are interested in Japanese filmmakers using a period setting of feudal Japan to make thinly veiled criticism of Japan at the time – and their conduct in the war (Harakiri was hugely controversial in Japan upon release because it was seen as a direct criticism of the role of corporations in the running of Japan, a salient critique that upset a lot of the right people) I would recommend Mizoguchi’s Sansho Dayu and Ugetsu, if you haven’t seen them already.

    I do not, however, recommend Takashi Miike’s remake of Harakiri, love him as a I do. Though, it’s a good way of realising that Harakiri is even more impressive than you think as every different decision Miike makes reveals why the original worked so well.

    • This is also my time to represent the secret best Akira Kurosawa film (I watched every Kurosawa film in order over the summer because… lockdown) and Red Beard needs to be more seen and more loved!

    • Wow mate thank so much for all of this info. I have really made a point of getting into more Japanese cinema this year and this sounds like I have a lot more work ahead of me 🙂

      • Some important films not already mentioned that you should check out (not always outstanding but key films throughout Japanese cinema):
        1. Woman in the Dunes
        2. Onibaba
        3. Hausu
        4. The Mourning Forest
        5. Tampopo
        6. In the Realm of the Senses
        7. Tetsuo the Iron Man
        8. Orgies of Edo
        9. Pulse
        10. Antiporno
        11. Paprika
        12. After Life
        13. Angel’s Egg
        14. A Funeral Parade of Roses
        15. I was born, but…
        16. One Cut of the Dead
        17. Audition
        18. Gate of Hell
        19. Suzaki Paradise: Red Light
        20. Dark Water

        I’ve tried to avoid some of the obvious and gone for 20 different filmmakers (if you want further pulls based on key directors: Kurosawa (Kiyoshi or Akira), Ozu, Miike, Sono, Kawase, Kore-eda then hit me up :D).

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