|LFF Review: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Sunday, 16 October 2011 10:34|
Director: Takashi Miike
After the orchestrated mayhem of 13 Assassins, everyone expected Takashi Miike’s next samurai remake (of the 1962 Harakiri) to be an equally bloody stream of brilliance. The addition of 3D promised even more entrails and splattering gore. But Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai has none of that. Not even a burning cow. It’s a disappointing but impressive show of restraint.
One day, Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) wanders into the House of Li, asking to kill himself in their courtyard. It’s a noble move for a penniless ronin during a time of peace, but Kageyu (Koji Yakusho) is suspicious. Others have turned up in the past and pledged to commit suicide, hoping to bluff their way to a handful of begged coins.
Cue an exchange of flashbacks, in which we meet Hanshiro’s son, Motome (Eita), and his wife and baby. A tragic tale unfolds, as poverty strikes, honour is questioned and cute children get married. Miike sticks to the structure of the 1962 original, but this long middle act drags Hara-Kiri down a notch, despite the moving performances.
Throughout his domestic melodrama, Miike keeps his camera steady, slowly sweeping through dirty rooms with a strong sense of depth – the 3D suits the contrast between the vertical wooden beams in the foreground and Motome's sick wife in the background, but at the cost of losing the contrast between the dark indoor reds and the fiery leaves outside. It’s great to see the Audition director demonstrating his mastery of the classical style, but as the slow flashbacks begin to flag, you kind of wish he’d just chop someone’s head off. One gruelling scene sees a man stabbing his own intestines with a splintered stick, but even that lacks the director’s trademark violence.
Thankfully, it climaxes in a masterful flourish of swordplay, that’s as powerful and thrilling as anything the director’s done. With little more than a wooden sword, Miike makes a moving study of honour and humanity. But the stilted script stops the film from being truly brilliant. On a scale of 1 to 13 Assassins, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is probably closer to a 7.
Needs more burning cows.