Today: April 15, 2024

Hara Kiri Death Of A Samurai

In feudal Japan impoverished ronin (masterless samurai) Hanshiro

In feudal Japan impoverished ronin
(masterless samurai) Hanshiro (Ebizô
Ichikawa
) calls at the noble House of Ii and requests
to commit seppuku (formal ritual suicide by disembowelment) in their courtyard
with the assistance of the family’s three best samurai.

Assuming
he’s bluffing, a beggar looking for a handout, the proud House retainer Kageyu
(Kôji Yakusho) tries to dissuade
Hanshiro. As they wait for the samurai
to assemble, he recounts the tale of the last down-on-his-luck samurai who
tried to scam the family, a young man named Motome (Eita) who it’s revealed had sold his swords in order to provide for
his sick wife and child. Exposed
as a conman, and to serve as a warning to other ronin, Motome is forced by the
House samurai to commit slow, agonising suicide with the bamboo practice swords
he carries.

Hanshiro
is not to be dissuaded however and, as they wait for the absent samurai to
arrive, he reveals his own tale of woe, revealing a closer bond than suspected
to the luckless Motome. Too late,
Kageyu comes to realise that Hanshiro has set in motion an elaborate game of
revenge…

Some
films shouldn’t be remade and if you can’t wait to see what a pig’s arse Len Wiseman’s made of Total Recall, check out Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Takashi Miike’s melancholic, blandly
bloodless remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s
blistering 1962 film Harakiri, which
narrowly missed out on 1963’s Palmes d’Or, losing to Visconti’s The Leopard, winning the Jury prize
instead. Never the subtlest of
directors (Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q anyone?), the prolific Miike’s
take on the tale is surprisingly subdued, flabby even, getting bogged down on
an overlong, almost comically doom-laden, melodramatic flashback that makes up
the central third of the film, laying bare Motome’s relationship with Hanshiro
and the younger man’s descent into destitution. The actors try hard, at least Yakusho and Ichikawa do,
Eita’s acting is reminiscent of an escapee from Caligari’s cabinet, but
ultimately their efforts are redundant.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai lacks not only the subtlety
of Kobayashi’s original film but the frustration and rage of his vision. Harakiri
was a raw, angry film, intent on deconstructing the myths and values of Japan’s
samurai culture and its notions of honour. Miikes’ ponderous Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is almost a celebration of them. The only possible excuse for remaking a
piece of cinema as good as the original was is if you think you can add
something, improve it, filter it through your modern consciousness and make it
more relevant to today. Miike
singularly fails in this respect; not only does he not add anything, he
detracts. The original was a howl
of rage and dissent which also sounded the samurai’s death knell; it’s telling
that in the original that new-fangled symbol of modernity and industrialisation
– the gun – played a pivotal part.
Miike’s more interested in staging a Kill Bill-style 3D climax that’s messily shot and devoid of
tension, in sharp contrast to the breath-taking, exhilaration of the original’s
climactic battle.

Do
yourself a favour; seek out the original.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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