One of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. My mum, who I dragged along with me to the movie theatre and was not looking forward to it at all, walked out of the theatre saying it was ‘perfect’.
Directed by Takashi Miike (三池 崇史), ‘Harakiri: Death of a Samurai’ (一命/ Ichimei), had none of the over the top art direction that I have seen in previous Miike films (although admittedly I have only seen a few). It was a very patient film and made me realize how rare it is to see modern films which accomplish a sense of true drama and tragedy without seeming contrived, predictable or over dramatic. The role of Hanshiro Tsugumo, the protagonist, is played by Ebizo Ichikawa (市川海老蔵) who is probably the most famous Kabuki actor in Japan at the moment. He comes from a long line of famous Kabuki actors and does a wonderful job in this film. He is supported by Eita (瑛 太) who successfully crafts his character into the most lovable husband I have ever seen in Japanese film. Hikari Mitsushima (満島ひかり) plays his wife Miho with incredible grace and charm.
She does an incredible job in what I found to be the most startling and emotional scene in the film wherein she finds a sweet wrapped up for her in her husband’s pocket.
I was a little bit worried about how to write this review because I know there are a lot of people who are ready to dismiss it based on the fact that the 1961 version by Masaki Kobayashi (小林 正樹), ‘Harakiri’ (切腹/ Seppuku) is widely considered a masterpiece (by me too!). So it follows in the footsteps of something great and therefore will always carry the stigma of ‘but it’s not as good as the original’.
I think that letting this stigma ruin your viewing experience of Miike’s version is a real shame. Firstly because it isn’t actually a remake of the 60’s film but another interpretation of the novel, ‘Ibun rônin-ki’ by Yasuhiko Takiguchi upon which both scripts were based. Secondly, because there is over 50 years between Kobayashi’s version and Miike’s, which in my opinion is a justifiable amount of time in between versions. It’s not like that time two Hollywood snow white films came out in the same year. Miike utilizes the technology available to him now to create an entirely different viewing experience of this tale. I’m not saying it’s better, just that both the original film version and the digital 3D version create completely different senses of place and textures for the story.
Lastly, I also think that the story that both films present is a timeless and worthy to be told time and time again in various different ways. I’ve heard it referred to as a Japanese tale of human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions and I think this describes it perfectly. Just as Shakespeare is remade time and time again I think this tale that puts forward ideas of true honor and humility should be told over and over.
This is the first time I have ever seen a film in 3D and thought that it was a good move for it to be in 3D. Usually, I feel like making things 3D is just distracting, detracting from both the telling of the narrative and the audience’s appreciation for the cinematographers framing of each shot. However, in ‘Harakiri’ where every shot was so simply framed and sparse of detail (in a beautiful, simplistic way reminiscent of Japanese art and crafts), it wasn’t distracting at all. Rather, it just did what I assume it is usually meant to do- made you feel like the characters and settings were a little more real and textured. In particular it worked really well for the opening credits which where calligraphy- style kanji over a slow track across the samurai’s fortress and courtyard where the suicides took place.
Even if you love the original and think that nothing could add to it, I’d encourage you to see this film because it is one of the best that I have seen at the cinema’s lately and if nothing else, brings a beautifully conceived epic tragedy to modern audiences with beautiful cinematography that can hardly be complained about even when held up against a masterpiece.