“Harakiri” Review ✦✦✦✦✦

29 December, 2017

Year of Release: 1962
Masaki Kobayashi
Shinobu Hashimoto
Director of Photography: 
Yoshio Miyajima
Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Shima Iwashita

Synopsis: Unable to make ends meet during times of peace, a wandering ronin requests to commit suicide on an estate ruled by a counsellor with little sympathy for the struggles of impoverished samurai. A dark fate awaits the hosting party, however, after the warrior reveals his plan to exact revenge on those who tore his family apart.

Harakiri Review:

A grave portrait of feudal ethics in an era of reduced conflict and deadly moral mishaps, “Harakiri” is a masterclass in narrative cinema adapted by Jidaigeki intellectual Shinobu Hashimoto whose timeless screenplay looks no further than history itself as a gruesome influencer. Set to the tune of the past yet visibly critical of Japan’s adoration for samurai code and tradition, the film finds room for honour but never foolishness in a tale willing to criticise the shape of its country’s history while remaining firmly in awe of the loyalists who suffered within it.

An intricate revenge plot masked behind the indulgence of a simple seppuku request, “Harakiri” implies cowardice from multiple angles but changes viewers’ minds in scene upon scene of perspective-altering plot twists. Forging heroes and villains out of a commitment to the same cause while struggling to agree on an exact blueprint for an entire era’s rigid code of conduct, “Harakiri” plays samurai tradition like a slot machine, taking its time to match up the perfect duel while advancing character development in backstories spliced and diced to perfection.

Matching the words of an ageing samurai with images of prosperity, poverty, and severe bereavement in times of crippling uncertainty, “Harakiri” gives us a hero with nothing to lose and a grudge to bear, placing an unwavering pursuit of justice within a modest recounting of times past. Post-Kurosawa but still the crucial precursor to “Kill Bill”, “Oldboy” and even “Star Wars”, “Harakiri” is a movie cinema couldn’t live without and yet this somehow feels like its least interesting quality. Masaki Kobayashi’s film is a masterpiece of style and storytelling, an edge-of-your-seat thriller with the precision and patience to thoroughly explore all that its genre has to offer, rebuffing standard action while giving us everything we could possibly hope for in a single revenge plot.


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