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Harakiri (1962)


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Critic Reviews: 1
Fresh: 1 | Rotten: 0



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Movie Info

This well-regarded Japanese drama follows an aging samurai as he attempts to regain his family's honor. In 17th century Japan, a shift in the country's political structure has thrown the feudal Shogun system into disuse. Impoverished samurai wander the countryside, asking wealthy estate owners if they can commit hara-kiri, a grisly form of suicide, on their property. The usual and honorable response is an offer of some work for food or shelter. Into the house of a lord comes Hanshiro Tsugumo

Aug 23, 2005

Criterion Collection

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All Critics (7) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (5) | Rotten (0) | DVD (3)

A devastating, emotionally intense critique of the feudal system's hypocrisy and the warrior's code.

September 8, 2005 Full Review Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A masterful chess game, filled with many carefully constructed moves, each arranged to fit in a particular place. It's glorious to behold.

October 29, 2011 Full Review Source: Combustible Celluloid
Combustible Celluloid

even if Kobayashi's first period film is an exemplary tale speaking as much to our own times as to Japan's feudal era, it is also a ripping yarn, keeping the viewer gripped with its jigsaw structure and intense performances.

September 14, 2011 Full Review Source: Little White Lies
Little White Lies

Audience Reviews for Harakiri

Masaki Kobayashi's tormented drama is a timeless tale about the changing of times. How the lives we create, built on shifting sands, can so easily disintegrate with the advancement of a simple breeze.

During the Edo Period, which saw the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate, peace and stability ruled the land. Forced to disband, many warrior clan released thousands of Ronin (lordless samurai) out into the land. Many became impoverished; stripped of their life's work.

This particular story follows the aging warrior Hanshiro Tsugumo and his request to commit Hara-kiri on honorable grounds. There he is greeted by Umenosuke Kawabe, the feudal lord of the Lyi clan. Still drunk on the power and tradition of the Bushido Code, Umensokuke is intent on letting Hanshiro fulfill his request. Lately, there have been a slew of Ronin who in demanding honorable death; are really expecting coin.

When Hanshiro inquires about a man who recently made a similar demand, a game of mental chess ensues between Hanshiro and Umenosuke. It soon becomes apparent that Hanshiro has a connection to a previous Ronin, Motome Chijiiwa, who recently spilled his own blood in this place and Kobayashi masterfully unravels the story through a series of flashbacks.

Released during a time when "Chambara" (sword fighting films) were vogue, Kobayashi subverts the glamorization of the samurai genre. Through his protagonist, he reveals the Bushido code to be merely a facade. A societal adhesive that many clung to even when the ever-evolving society rendered it obsolete.

He also undermines the glamor of Chambara pictures by revealing the stark reality of the "honorable" samurai culture. When Motome is forced to commit Hara-Kiri with a sword made of bamboo (he sold his real sword to help out his ailing son), it is agonizing to watch. Thrusting the dull blade into his gut over and over again, a swordsman stands by anxiously; waiting until he feels the ritual is complete before decapitating the poor soul. Using well placed dolly shots & canted angles, Kobayashi & cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima ratchet up the intensity. This coupled with a close-up of Motome's sweating brow as he laboriously impales himself - fully comprehending the horror of this act of "honor"- renders the viewer unable to find glory or honor in this act of self-immolation.

Kobayashi frequently cuts to an image of armor that sits inside the Lyi palace to augment his message. Inside the armor is no living flesh. It is merely the relic of a bygone era. Sadly, many are unwilling to let go of the reigns, forcing their anachronism onto others in order to save face.

It's a film that looks at humanity's capacity for change. In it, Kobayashi shows the viewer the folly of clinging to what is no longer; the irrationality of adhering to the impractical and the foolishness of coercing others to follow suit. For as the film warns: "What befalls others today, may be your own fate tomorrow."
January 28, 2013
Reid Volk

Super Reviewer

A powerful critique of the feudal system, the hipocrisy and the persecution of individuality. The parade of a false sense of "honor" that sacrifices human beings for the sake of a facade, an illusion of prosperity, of doing the "right" thing. Kobayashi's direction is impecable as usual, and the cast is top-notch. Pretty much what cinematic perfection looks and feels, we watch with a great sense of sorrow for Tsugumo. never with pity. One of the jewels of japanese cinema.
September 4, 2011
Tsubaki Sanjuro

Super Reviewer

I've been waiting a long time to watch this movie, but now I've finally seen it!
This movie is different from other samurai movies, because it criticizes the samurai code; Bushido, and doesn't romanticize it.

Nakadai is as wonderful as ever with his colorful range of expressions, nobody else can portray as much intensity as he does.

Masaki Kobayashi (the director) definitely is a Master of Cinema!

November 29, 2008

Super Reviewer

Seppuku I don't know if this is the best samurai project ever brought to screen, but I'm willing to bet that it is right up there. Actually billed as an anti-samurai film, this bare-bones black & white drama cuts to the core of the samurai way of life in an examination of the validity of the samurai code. Although the code ultimately stands up to close scrutiny, albeit unsteadily, it is finally only through revisionist manipulation that it does hold up at all. In short, the way of the samurai, or bushido, finally just survives this anti-samurai treatment, teetering upon a shaky foundation made up of lies perpetrated through sheer force of authoritarian pronouncement and will. This not only demonstrates how the myth and mystique of bushido survive, but it also gives good insight into the way those in power can turn fact into accepted self-serving fiction. As an aside, while watching Harakiri, Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, an American anti-western that performs a similar function of undercutting the perceived code, the collective bravado, of the gun-slinging West, kept coming to mind. That's another one I must watch again.
September 24, 2007

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Harakiri: Death of a Samurai (Seppuku) (CA)
  • Seppuku (ES)
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