Harakiri ★★★★

Agonizing, and I mean that twofold. In 1630 Japan, a young ronin has fallen into helpless times so he enters the Edo feudal courtyard and requests permission to die in honor by form of seppuku, which is self-induced disembowelment. We get a far more graphic depiction of such a thing for a 1962 film than we would expect, and the subject does not have a traditional samurai sword, oh no, it's worse as he has to use an imitation sword made out of bamboo. Yet the opening 45-minutes or so of Harakiri is disorienting with its jumps back and forth between 1619 and 1630, between two different figures, who have wished to die by disembowelment told with such "Rashomon" complication and oblique camera set-ups you want to tear your eyes out. In addition, everything is said with floridly formal language used as discourse on honor, on poverty, on persons known to suicide bluff for pity money exchanges, on what it means to die ritually before an audience, on what it means to have a "second" samurai behind them to finish them off with a beheading.

The 50-minute mark is about when I felt the film was taking on a new vitality to match its intellectual content. By then, I had gotten to know Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) thoroughly, and when it goes to a flashback a long time ago the lines of who knew who had finally become clear; it has also been intriguingly fishy because we know something is up. Tsugumo may or may not want to actually commit harakiri before a formal audience, but we sense he is ready to die, and we sense he is ready to hatch revenge on the lordship somehow, to some degree. We are really clued into this especially when there is a recent flashback of Tsugumo humiliating unbeatable! samurai in public by taking off their "topknots."

What concludes the film is a slow moving camera to contemplate the carnage of what had just transpired, perusing all the sick details, and what I thought of is: Oh my God, that's where Scorsese got that idea for the post-mortem of "Taxi Driver" when his overhead camera glides past and reviews all the bloodshed!

Harakiri is agony to begin with, difficult to grasp, a mental workout to decipher, and it's indeed one of the toughest films I have ever had to sit through. But there is cultural insight to it and we get a payback that’s a worthwhile deliverance.

Directed by Masaki Kobayashi whose subsequent 1964 film "Kwaidan" is both an opulently well-crafted anthology of ghost and supernatural tales as well as a maddening affront to concise storytelling; a gorgeous but overworked thin conceit.

Note: Originally rated 3.5 stars. If there's one film I've underrated that was an egregious misfire, it was my first rating reaction to HARAKIRI. What can I say other than it took time for me to get used to, for my mind to adjust. After a year of brewing over it, I have finally upgraded it to 4 stars.

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