Kobayashi

Harakiri [切腹- Seppuku]

– After all, this thing we call samurai honor is ultimately nothing but a facade.

Harakiri, Masaki Kobayashi (1962) [133 minutes]

After seeing Harakiri, I really need to reevaluate my list of favorite Japanese movies. And coming from me, that is a pretty big compliment (I have a tendency to like all things samurai). It is so beautiful, horrifying, poignant and brash. It shows the hypocrisy and corruption of the ancient Japanese samurai honor code. Kobayashi shows us that this code is just as empty as the suit of armor pictured above.

The story itself is nonlinear, and told through a set of flashbacks and flashbacks within flashbacks. As a viewer you will switch sides many times throughout the film; it keeps you on your toes, never knowing what to believe. It begins with a samurai (played by Hanshiro Tsugumo) entering a large manor. His purpose is to ask if he can use their courtyard to commit harakiri. He has lost everything, he has no master and has been living in poverty. This is no way for a samurai to live; so, he says that in committing harakiri he would at least die with honor. Now, the lords and their retainers are not too sure that this man’s intention is honorable. At the time, many masterless samurai, called ronin, would go to homes claiming that they wished to commit harakiri. No one wants a person to disembowel themselves in what is the equivalent of their front lawn, so they would usually offer the samurai a job or give them some money. This household believes this man is also out for some cash. They proceed to tell him a tale, it feels like a parable, of a young ronin who tried to fool them. After hearing the tale, the samurai responds with a story of his own.

I must warn you, however. This film is not for the faint of heart. I mean, it is called Harakiri after the ritualistic suicide performed by samurai. There is less violence than one would expect, but when it appears it is very graphic and unsettling. I’m not bothered by too much blood and such, but even I was a little freaked. Unless you’re super sensitive, don’t let it stop you from watching. If you are a bit nervous about it, maybe you can get someone to cover your eyes and ears during those scenes! They give you plenty of warning.

This film is super stylish. Now, by stylish I don’t mean that it has great fashion or interior design skills (even though the costumes and sets are very nicely done). When you watch it you will see what I’m talking about. Every shot is composed perfectly.  It really is a beauty to watch. The trailer bellow will show you what I mean better than any words can:

Nerdy Linguistics Moment: Harakiri and Seppuku mean the exact same thing. Harakiri is just a more vulgar way of saying Seppuku. For more info about what it is click here.

How to watch: Of course, you must watch in Japanese with subtitles. I also must recommend that if you can you should watch this on a nice, big TV. This movie is very visually engaging, so it benefits from a dark room and a large TV.

Who to watch with: This movie is not for children. Teenagers and up are fine, but younger kids will not understand the majority of what is going on and will be pretty freaked out. Other than that most people would enjoy this. As I mentioned before, if you really don’t like violence this will be tough. It is very graphic.

Final Verdict: This is one of the greatest samurai movies I have ever seen. It does a wonderful job of painting a complex narrative full of twists and turns. The visuals and soundtrack are among the best I’ve seen/heard. You will be thinking about this movie long after it ends. It will be the topic of many a conversation with your fellow viewers. So, watch this movie. It may be difficult to get through at times, but it is most definitely worth it.

Now, watch it and let me know what you think! 🙂