Harakiri (1962)

DVDBeaver’s review describes this film as “seething”, and that strikes me as perfectly apt, for Harakiri does nothing if it does not seethe. There is rage bubbling away under the surface of the film; it’s a slow-burner that lets its anger come forth in fairly measured fashion, but it builds up to a terribly satisfying climactic outburst. The story is set in the early years of the shogunate, when many former warlords have been divested of their domains and thousands of new ronin suddenly find themselves struggling to survive without their former masters. Some have been pestering various noble houses, threatening to commit harakiri on their properties, hoping to be given work or at least be sent home with money. But the House of Iyi are less inclined to that sort of generosity. So when Tsugumo rocks up asking for a place to commit harakiri, he’s given the story of how the last ronin to do so was forced to carry out harakiri after all… but when he’s not deterred by this, suspicions start to grow. As the film unfolds, the reasons why Tsugumo’s come to the Iyi despite their reputed “martial valour” become clear and that anger spills out, anger at the general social situation created by the shogunate and at the specific viciousness of the Iyi, who are ultimately more concerned with appearing honourable rather than actually being honourable. At 133 minutes, it’s a slow burner like I said, but I thought it was rivetting; Tatsuya Nakadai is intense as Tsugumo (although I could never escape the fact that he was too young to be playing someone who must’ve been in his mid-40s), and Kobayashi is obviously on top of what he’s doing as far as building up tension and finaly releasing it goes. Terrific stuff, and amazing to think his next film after this would be the couldn’t-be-more-different Kwaidan (which I really must rewatch soon)…

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