Film review: Hara Kiri

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Reviewed by Cate Leedman

Edited by Crystal Abidin

Film: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
Director: Takashi Miike
Running Time: 126 minutes
Year of Release: 2012
Language: Japanese (with English subtitles)


A twist on a Japanese tale

‘Harakiri’ refers to a traditional Japanese ritual of suicide by disembowelment, typically performed by Samurais. This ritual is the central event of the film, and the catalyst for which two courageous and strong-willed men take their own lives.

Takashi Miike’s remake of the 1962 original highlights the emotions of revenge, love, and pride embodied by a family living in poverty during the feudalistic years of Japan. The beautiful scenery presented through the cinematography contrasts with the cruelty entwined into the scene of self-mutilation.

Illustrating the lush shrubbery, traditional tatami mats, and tranquil wildlife, I was immediately taken back to my time spent in Kyoto. I found strong aspects of melodrama and Greek tragedy used throughout the film to juxtapose this serenity, and it intensified my need to know more about Motome and the path that brought him to the House of Lyi.

Hanshiro sets out to take revenge on the sadistic feudal lord of the House of Lyi who sentenced his son-in-law to a brutal and undignified death. His plight to avenge Motome is heightened by the central flashback that details the path his family took to end up in such a tragic position. The Shakespearean style plot awakened my desire to see the underdog recover and endure.

Having never seen a Japanese Samurai film, let alone one in 3D, I was apprehensive as to what I would be embarking on. My ability to cope with ‘blood and guts’ was tried, almost excruciatingly, when Motome’s bluff is tested, and he is forced to commit suicide using his own bamboo sword. To those with a poor gag reflex, I would warn you: Be prepared for this scene. It certainly takes its time to let all victims out of their misery.

While there is unusually infrequent carnage, viewers become strongly invested in the lives of those characters that act with integrity, loyalty, and above all, honour. A “Samurai is only as good as his word” and this is where Motome and his father-in-law, Hanshiro, befall their fateful end.

To be honest, the film took a little longer than necessary to tie up, but it was both catastrophic and captivating to see the lengths a father would go to avenge his son’s wrongful death.

I strongly recommend this film to those who enjoy traditional Japanese or Independent films, along with sensational Shakespearian tales with a twist at the end.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai opens Thursday 21 March in 3D at Luna Leederville and Luna Outdoor Cinemas.