Saturday, May 27, 2017

2107 Cannes Marathon: Harakiri


(Co-Winner of the Special Jury Prize w/ The Cassandra Cat at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival)



Based on a story by Yasuhiko Takiguchi, Harakiri is the story of a ronin samurai who wants to commit seppuku at the home of a warlord where he is confronted by members of the lord’s clan. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi and screenplay by Shinobu Hashimoto, the film is an exploration of a man trying to maintain his sense of honor and beliefs during a time of change in 17th Century Japan during the Edo era. Starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Rentaro Mikuni, Shima Iwashita, Akira Ishihama, and Yoshio Inaba. Harakiri is a gripping yet eerie film from Masaki Kobayashi.

Set in 1630 Edo, the film follows a ronin warrior who goes to the home of a revered warlord and asks the house if he can commit hara-kiri in their home as he recounts his story. It’s a film with a simple premise as it relates to the subject of suicide and honor yet it is told in a complex manner as it challenges these ideas during a time of peace in 17th Century Japan after years of feuding warlords. Especially as it is about dying with a sense of honor at a time where ronin samurai warriors are dealing with not having work and poverty as they have no one to work for as they can either get work for a lord or nothing all but death. Much of Shinobu Hashimoto’s screenplay is told in a reflective manner as the ronin samurai warrior Tsugumo Hanshiro (Tatsuya Nakadai) would arrive at the house of the Ii clan where he would meet with its head counselor Saito Kageyu (Rentaro Mikuni) about doing hara-kiri at the estate of this warlord.

Yet, Kageyu has some reservations as it relates to men claiming to be ronin samurais who come in hoping for money as he tells Hanshiro about a young man named Chijiiwa Motome (Akira Ishihama) who is suspected of being part of an extortion scheme. The film’s screenplay has a unique structure that would play into the flashback as the first act is about Motome’s story while the second act is about Hanshiro’s own story that would lead to his reason for wanting to commit seppuku. It would lead to this very intense third act as it would play into the idea of honor and the samurai code as it is revealed to be flawed as it goes into the present story as Hanshiro is eager to perform seppuku but he has ideas of how he wants it done.

Masaki Kobayashi’s direction is definitely entrancing in the way he captures the world of 17th Century Japan at a time of peace where everything seems to go well but it is just an illusion as Kobayashi would slowly peel the layers to reveal something that isn’t everything as it seems. Much of the direction has Kobayashi use a lot of wide shots to capture the scope of the house as well as some of the exteriors in the rural locations in Japan. The scenes inside the house including the courtyard where the seppuku ritual is performed has Kobayashi use not just some wide shots but also low angles, slanted camera angles, medium shots, and close-ups to play into some of the tension and suspense that looms throughout. Even in the way Kobayashi puts his actors into a frame for the compositions as it showcases how much a seppuku ceremony means something where there’s a man in the corner that is to be a samurai’s second with many others watching over him.

The direction of Kobayashi also display some intimacy in the flashbacks as it relates to Hanshiro’s story as well as the things that led to the third act. Notably the three men that Hanshiro asks for to be his second during the seppuku ceremony as his choices where Kobayashi goes inside the house where Kageyu and some of his senior members of the clan try to find the three men Hanshiro has requested. Much of the film throughout is very restrained until the third act where it’s not just about the seppuku ritual but also the code of the samurai and its flaws. Especially as Hanshiro would divulge some information that would create a sense of chaos in the Ii clan as its climax isn’t just violent but also unsettling considering the fa├žade that these warlords wanted to present in peace time Japan during the 17th Century. Overall, Kobayashi creates a visceral and intense film about a man wanting to commit hara-kiri at the home of a warlord.

Cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima does amazing work with the film’s black-and-white cinematography as it help play into some of the tension in the film as well as its usage of lights for some of the scenes at night and in some of the interior settings. Editor Hisashi Sagara does excellent work with the editing as it straightforward with the exception of some jump-cuts that help play into some of the dramatic tension and action. Art directors Junichi Ozumi and Shigemasa Toda, with set decorator Zenichi Taijiri, do brilliant work with the look of the estate in its interiors and exteriors as well as the home of Hanshiro in the flashbacks.

Costume designer Mitsuzo Ueda does nice work with the costumes where it showcases the look of the robes as well as what one has to wear for a seppuku ceremony. The sound work of Hideo Nishizaki is fantastic for some of the sound effects that is created and captured to help play into the dramatic suspense as well as some of the action. The film’s music by Toru Takemitsu is incredible for its unsettling and eerie score filled with disconcerting string music and some hollow percussions as it help set a dark mood for a scene as it is a highlight of the film.

The film’s marvelous ensemble cast feature some notable small roles from Yoshio Inaba as an old friend of Hanshiro in Jinai in the flashbacks, the trio of Tetsuo Tamba, Ichiro Nakatani, and Yoshiro Aoki as the three senior members of the clan whom Hanshiro asks for to be his second, and Shima Iwashita as Hanshiro’s daughter Miho whom Hanshiro loved and cared for in the film’s flashbacks. Akira Ishihama is excellent as Chijiiwa Motome as a young man claiming to be a samurai as he would be part of a story that would raise suspicions for Hanshiro’s own claims. Rentaro Mikuni is brilliant as Saito Kageyu as a clan counselor who is watching over everything and see if Hanshiro is worthy to commit seppuku as well as be someone who is very intent on maintaining some kind of code of what samurais should do. Finally, there’s Tatsuya Nakadai in a phenomenal performance as Tsugumo Hanshiro as a ronin samurai warrior who wants to end his life at the home of a warlord as he would state his own reasons and his own story as it is a performance filled with some humility and gravitas that is later more complex as it adds to the film’s chilling climax.

Harakiri is a tremendous film from Masaki Kobayashi that features a sensational performance from Tatsuya Nakadai. Featuring a great cast, gorgeous visuals, and an eerie film score, it’s that explores some of the fallacies of the samurai code as well an exploration of 17th Century Japanese culture and some of its drawbacks. In the end, Harakiri is a spectacular film from Masaki Kobayashi.

Masaki Kobayashi Films: (Black River) - The Human Condition Trilogy - Kwaidan - Samurai Rebellion - (Hymn to a Tired Man) - (The Fossil) - (Tokyo Trial)

© thevoid99 2017

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