Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2012)
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Critic Reviews for Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai reveals yet another facet of this always-unpredictable filmmaker: a flair for compassionate, humane melodrama.
A quiet, narratively layered period drama with a focus squarely on character.
Miike can't seem to get enough of Hanshiro's heroics. That's not just visual excess, though.
A 3-D epic that, despite its title, is more of a soap opera than a swordplay thriller.
It's an indelible picture of a cold-hearted ruling class that has allowed self-interest and hypocrisy to override its own humanity.
Audience Reviews for Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
Not a bad film in itself, but as with cinema masterpiece remakes it results in the obvious question: WHY? This one adds nothing worthy to the original, which is one of the greatest films ever made. Instead, its solid but workman production and performances pale badly by comparison. Were it an original movie, it would be a good one, not exceptional, but not a bad one either. That is the inherent danger in undertaking a remake, and it's nearly impossible to remake a masterpiece without falling flat. While this one is OK, without substantial flaws, it fails to rise to the level of Masaki Kobayashi's original by a large margin. Takashi Miike could have better spent his time, energy and money on creating an original Edo period film, not attempting to remake one of cinema's all time masterpieces. Eventually, this one will end up in the dustbin of discarded remakes, forgotten for all but a footnote in the trivia notes for the original.
Now, this was a totally pointless film. It adds nothing to the great original, it only downgrades every aspect of it. The incompetend actors couldn't possibly compare with the standard Tatsuya Nakadai and the others set 40 years before. As a result, the stoicism, melancholy and magnificence that Nakadai, with his characteristically deep voice, brought to the original role of Hanshiro is totally lost in a superficial performance by Ichikawa. The other actors fall short too of their tasks and especially the actor playing the young son of Hanshiro and the actors playing the vicious samurais of the li house. They are all too young and look more like they are bullies in a school than experienced samurais. The music is ridiculous. Soft piano accompanies most of the melodramatic scenes of Hanshiro's flashback. Now, of all the nonsense to do in a period film with samurai this takes the crown! I won't mention the ludicrously emphasised disgusting sound effects in the harakiri scene. The 3D gives nothing essential to the film; it only distracts with 'pretty' but unneeded weather effects that pretend to give some symbolic significance to the drama. The final showdown at the finale of the original is probably one of the most breathtaking fighting scenes in the history of cinema (it was exhilerating, suberbly acted, choeographed with precision, looked totally realistic and most of all, it worked like katharsis), but this remake totally ruins the actual significance of the scene by emphasizing the melodrama of the character (the 'bad-ass' glances of the main actor don't help either). The film overall gives the feeling of a superficial, light piece to be consumed by the Tarantino-bred younger generations and lacks the focus and the purity of Masaki Kobayashi's masterpiece. The cinematography is very good though with nice colours and subtle camera movements. The overall rhythm suffers too with overlong melodramatic moments and overlong coda after the death of the hero.
This, surprisingly, Miike's most emotionally driven film that I've seen. There are some parts of the film that are definitely very melodramatic, though it's really just one scene, but the majority of the film is an effectively told drama. The story is simple to follow but it can be a very powerful story indeed. There's the one scene, you'll know the one, with Motome that was, quite frankly, disturbing. And the great thing about it is that they get the desired effect merely with facial expressions and sound effects. It isn't, visually, very graphic but the more horrific stuff in the scene is left to the imagination. And this is something that Miike hasn't done a lot of. Usually he's pretty in your face when it's time to be graphic, but it's nice to see him hold back and let the actor and the sound effects tell the entire story. The story isn't perfect, but it is a good story about how far a man will go, this case being Motome, in order to make sure his family is safe and taken care of. There's also Hanshiro's story of a man who has nothing to lose, but one who's also bent on getting a small measure of revenge on the people who cost him everything. Again, some of it is melodramatic with sappy music playing over the sadder scenes. Personally, I've never been a big fan of the sappy music during the dramatic moments. It just comes across to me like you don't trust your actors enough to sell the emotion of the moment, so you choose to manipulate people with a sad score. There's only one scene where I that happens in this movie, but it's still there. It's more distracting that complementary. I still really liked this film, the story isn't flawless, but it's another notch on the belt of Takashi Miike. The guy keeps getting better and is continually maturing as a filmmaker. So while this wouldn't be one of his most memorable films, it's another important step in his evolution and growth. This and 13 Samurais will help him be considered a respected filmmaker rather than a guy who makes weird films, even if I love his weirder films. This is a solid recommendation.
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