Harakiri is a disturbing
word with significant implications, for the word represents a form of
ritualistic suicide that samurai would partake in within Japanese
film is thereby, on a surface level, one that is about suicide and the
form that is carried out by the samurai. The film setting is of course
in Japan (specifically dating back to the early 1600's Edo Period). With a screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto (Seven Samurai, Rashomon) and direction
from Masaki Kobayashi (The Human Condition
Trilogy) this shocking, influential, and important cinematic
The story begins with a simplistic setup that
suggests that the
story that will unfold is one of honor and importance found in adhering
samurai code. The central character, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai)
elderly samurai who enters the Iyi temple and claims a desire to commit
hara-kiri. The temple leader hears the request and suspicions are soon
that Hanshiro had not arrived at the temple to commit hara-kiri at all,
rather to receive a small sum of money to go on his way.
Viewers soon learn that this is a common issue for
and for other clans throughout the entire Japanese country. In a attempt to bring the "truth" of his
reason for coming to the Iyi clan, Hanshiro is then told a story of a
ronin by the name Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama), who had attempted
to make a
similar request and who was forced to commit hara-kiri in the end, and
sword made of bamboo (which also made the act incredibly painful).
an interesting response to hearing the story... for he has something to
with the entire clan. Hanshiro arrived at the front door of the Iyi
tell them a story of his very own connection to Motome Chijiiwa.
The film that unfolds following these events is
several flashbacks (always relevant to the action taking place on
screen in the
film's "current-time"), and of a bitter rant from a man with a message
with those who will listen. Hanshiro tells a story of great tragedy to
within the Iyi clan; one that brings a message quite different from
through on samurai honor and committing the act of hara-kiri.
itself to be thematically rich and rewarding upon deeper analysis of
This is a film that focuses on injustices, on an understanding of
and how that perception can affect situations and those involved in
them. The screenplay is one that focuses
simplistic structure and story in a literal sense of understanding.
according to screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, all of these themes were
forth from critics and viewers of the film. Hashimoto set out to make a
about a man with an angry rant that focused on the idea of hara-kiri
story that unfolds is one of great intelligence, apparently
themes and conscious in a poetic style of storytelling that is a
of the great screenwriter Hashimoto as one of Japan's finest writers
for the cinema.
The acting is uniformly brilliant. Each performer
bring a unique approach to these characters, and the end result is a
selection of dynamic performances. No one excels quite as well as
Nakadai does; Nakadai delivered one of the greatest performances in
cinema. It is difficult to imagine anyone walking away from the
experience without feeling moved by a profound
performance for the character of Hanshiro Tsugumo.
Masaki Kobayashi is an unflinchingly brilliant
was probably one of the greatest successful perfectionists in Japanese
around the time that he made Harakiri.
Kobayashi seems to have full control over his work with each sequence
to be flawless in execution. Harakiri is
so brilliant a film as to not have a single second of wasted footage or
framing. Imagine Kobayashi as the
general of a peaceful troop of soldiers working together towards a
sense of truths. Harakiri is a
samurai film that is a quiet drama of devastating importance more than
it is a
mere action spectacle of simplistic entertainment.
The cinematography by Yoshio Miyajima adds a great
the excellence of Harakiri as well.
Many scenes conclude on notes of theatrical lighting where a small silhouette of light against darkness has
importance in bringing the viewer closer to the emotions of the
film also has great camerawork throughout, with the framing
excellent and movement poetic to behold.
The film also has the benefit of a fantastic score
Takemitsu -it was one the composer's early works and it has remained a
monumental achievement in understanding the importance of sound in
are many scenes with minimalistic quiet, disrupted only by quiet sounds
beautiful and inherently sad instrumentation that capably adds detail
Harakiri is one of
the greatest films in Japanese cinema. The filmmaking is brilliant from
major contributor. It is one of the most tragic films I have ever
at the same time it is one of those rare courageous works of art that
shouldn't overlook or ignore. Fans of Japanese cinema should consider
essential film in understanding Japanese culture and filmmaking.
Presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio
Harakiri arrives on a 50 GB Blu-ray
disc with a stunning High Definition AVC encode that meticulously
beautiful cinematography. A layer of film grain is properly preserved,
is excellent, black levels are incredible, and the print itself has
print damage or dirt (these instances occur with only minor
the image). This is a nearly flawless presentation and one that easily
another fine release from Criterion.
Harakiri has received
a lossless uncompressed mono soundtrack in the Japanese language with
English subtitles provided. The sound quality is magnificent with great
that effectively captures the dialogue and music throughout. The
naturally well-done with proper translations and few (if any) errors.
feature included on the Criterion Blu-ray release of Harakiri
is presented in 1080i High Definition.
by Donald Richie (11:58) - This Japanese Film
Historian recorded a video introduction for Criterion in 2004. This
a number of significant insights into the film in both a historical and
thematic context. However, the ending of the film is discussed and it
better for any viewers who have yet to see the film to view this
from a Directors Guild of Japan
interview with director Masaki Kobayashi
(9:06) - Moderated by Masahiro Shinoda and conducted on October 14,
at the Haiyuza Theatre in Tokyo, Japan this interview offers some rare
into Kobayashi's views on the film and the collaboration between
made it possible. Kobayashi seems both a bit shy and humble in the
and a brief run-time means it isn't as comprehensive as most would
want, but it
has a few worthwhile moments which make it well worth checking out for
Interviews with star Tatsuya
Nakadai (A Golden Age -
14:29) and screenwriter
Shinobu Hashimoto (Masterless Samurai
- 12:51) are included. Both interviews were conducted in 2005
the Criterion Collection. Nakadai gives strong commentary on his acting
Interesting stories in relation to working on the set and discussions
others are plentiful. He acknowledges the great acclaim of the film and
quite proud of his strong accomplishment. Shinobu discusses the critic
audience reception to the film and his own process of writing the
without analyzing the themes that were later discussed in depth by
He also recounts some interesting information in relation to working
Akira Kurosawa and Masaki Kobayashi.
theatrical trailer (3:11) is a brief trailer
shown for the film prior
to its release. It contains some interesting moments of footage of the
filming of Harakiri.
also included a fascinating 31 page booklet with a well-written
by film scholar Joan Mellen about the importance of
Harakiri (with historical context as well) and a reprint of
Mellen's own 1972 interview with director Masaki Kobayashi. The
contains insights into all of the films by Kobayashi and it is
in-depth discussion that gives some insight into themes Kobayashi would
throughout all of his work and the views he has on his contribution to
as an art form and in the context of exploring ideas of individuality
society. There are many notable details, it is essential reading, but
should be prepared that a major aspect of the ending to Kobayashi's
The Human Condition is spoiled - in other
words, anyone who hasn't seen these films first should wait to read the
included booklet for Harakiri.
Special Jury Prize from the Cannes Film
Festival in 1962 and was already being called a masterpiece upon its
release. Harakiri is an
unquestionably important film about societal injustice and the story
magnificently compelling. The statement "This film is a masterpiece!"
sometimes over-used... but this isn't one of those instances. Harakiri
is a masterpiece of Japanese
cinema that belongs in every cinema-lovers collection. DVD Talk Collector Series.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.