- Rated R
All photos © Tribeca Film
Reviewed by Ezra Stead
or the last two decades, Japanese director Takashi Miike has been one of the most prolific filmmakers in the world, averaging an astounding four or five features per year, including masterpieces such as “Audition,” “Ichi the Killer” and “Gozu.” Now, he follows up last year's excellent “13 Assassins” with another remake of a samurai picture, updating the amazing 1962 film “Harakiri” in 3D. I would argue that Masaki Kobayashi's original rivals Akira Kurosawa's “Seven Samurai” and “Yojimbo” for the title of greatest samurai film ever made, so Miike's decision is a bold one, not to mention the fact that “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” is also the first 3D film ever to compete at the Cannes Film Festival. However, despite the overwhelming challenge of living up to the standards of this Japanese classic, Miike is largely successful.
As in the original film, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Ebizo Ichikawa) is a grizzled, penniless samurai in 17th Century Japan who no longer has a master or any work as a warrior. He comes to the house of Ii and speaks to Kageyu (Koji Yakusho, “13 Assassins”), the head retainer of the house, asking permission to use their courtyard as the scene of his ritual suicide. Kageyu tells him the story of Motome Chijiiwa (Eita), a younger samurai who made the exact same request but, as it turned out, was really looking for either work as one of the house's retainers or at least a small cash handout to send him away. This dishonor to the samurai code has become commonplace in recent times, and Kageyu and the other retainers instead see to it that Motome carries out his intended suicide by harakiri, also known as seppuku or “stomach-cutting.” Though he denies it at first, Hanshiro was once closely acquainted with Motome, and now has his own ulterior motives for making this same request.
Miike has stated that, “I definitely anticipate making more 3D movies. Next, if I have the chance, I want to have things that shouldn't come out of our bodies be hurled at the audience.” This is actually what I expected when I first heard that the filmmaker behind “Ichi the Killer” was making a 3D film, but “Hara-Kiri” is remarkably subdued for a Miike film, in keeping with the tone of the original. Though Motome's suicide scene is suitably brutal, and more graphic than the original, this is not a film that revels in violence.
Instead, it opts for a more sensitive portrayal of the desperation faced by the samurai class in times of peace, and a quiet, evenly paced character study of its protagonist, Hanshiro. Though it lacks some of the tension and elegance of the original, it takes a different enough path to be interesting on its own, while still remaining faithful to the themes of the superior first film.