A penniless ronin arrives at the house of a great Lord wishing to commit ritual suicide in his courtyard, and thus, in death, gain back some of the honour he has lost in life.
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is Takashi Miike’s remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film, Harakiri. The film explores the lives of two samurais who suffer when their livelihood is taken away from them, and the great lengths they will go to for the people they love. The film was shown at Cannes last year, and was one of the most talked about films on the Croisette, not least because it was the only 3D offering at last year’s festival.
The story is told mainly through flashback, first at the death of the first samurai to pull a ‘suicide bluff’ in the House of Li, then at that samurai’s life, and the events that led him to such desperate methods. The flashbacks are long winded and drawn out; there is a beautiful use of silence throughout, but often the pauses are too long, dragging out the information that the audience needs in order to understand the story. There is a touch of Shakespeare and a sprinkling of melodrama throughout the story, but the film takes 2 hours to tell a story that could have happily fit into 90 minutes.
The photography of the film is beautiful and showcases rural Japan at it’s best. The transitions between seasons are nothing short of stunning, but the question quickly arises; why was this film shot in 3D? Yes, the technology deepens the images that we see on screen, meaning that the opening titles look as though they are floating through the House of Li, and the snow that inevitably falls looks rich and plentiful, but this is not the action film that it could have been. Instead, the film is an exploration of family and honour, which means that there is very little real use of the 3D technology until the final battle. Speaking of the final battle, it is well paced and interestingly shot, but for a film about samurai suicide, is strangely disappointing. There are moments that are reminiscent of the House of Blue Leaves in Kill Bill Vol. 1, but this is not surprising since Tarantino is a magpie who gathers inspiration from films that have gone before. However, with such a wealth of Japanese samurai films available, and some from the West, the final fight leaves the audience feeling slightly cheated.
In all, Hara-Kiri looks good, although once again the 3D is not necessary, and it tells a somewhat interesting story, but the film does not break new ground. Many samurai films focus on the theme of honour, and in this, Hara-Kiri is nothing new and this remake fails to outdo the original.