Harakiri (1962)

Harakiri (Seppuku)
Directed by Misaki Kobayashi
Written by Shinobu Hashimoto and Yasuhiku Takiguchi from Takiguchi’s novel
1962/Japan
Shochiku Eiga
Repeat viewing/Filmstruck

Hanshiro Tsugumo: Who can fathom the depths of another man’s heart?

Few films have moved me as did this perfectly beautiful masterpiece.

It is best to come into the film knowing as little as possible about the story.  The plot develops like peeling layers off an onion to reach its core.  So I’ll be fairly brief.

It is 1630, a time of peace in Japan.  Hanshiro Tsugumo’s master was disgraced and his house disbanded, leaving Tsugumo a masterless ronin.  Many thousands of other samurai were without work leaving it almost impossible to find a job.  Tsugumo has been destitute for the last eight or nine years.  He approaches the Lyi clan and requests permission to die an honorable death by harikiri in their courtyard.  An official attempts to dissuade him by telling the story of Motomo Chijiwa, the last ronin to make such a request.

Tsugumo is not to be dissuaded and permission is finally granted.  The courtyard is set up for the ritual suicide.  Tsugumo is calm and ready.  But first he wants to tell the assembled audience a true story …

This film asks the question “What is real honor?” Certainly it is not rigid adherence to a traditional code.  Kobayashi condemns all those who put pride above people.  He does this in a way that goes straight to the heart,

The first time I saw this film I knew I would love it within the first two minutes.  The images are simply exquisite.  We get a lot of formal compositions that could come straight out of a 16th century painting flowing by Kobayashi’s moving camera.  He is also great with composing people in the courtyard and with samurai action.  Nakadai is fabulous – he manages to look completely different in each of his roles.

There is a scene of harakiri in this film and of a particularly disturbing sort.  It lasts less than five minutes and is discretely shot.  The final thirty minutes of the film are packed with intense swordplay.  My highest recommendation.

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6 thoughts on “Harakiri (1962)

  1. I saw this a few years ago and it blew me away. I watched it again last year and I think it will go into the rotation with films like Yojimbo and La strada and Smiles of a Summer Night that I try to watch every two or three years.

    I was working on a Top Ten Japanese Films list (which I gave up on because I ended up with more than twenty films and it broke my heart to start pruning it beyond that) and Harakiri was in the Top Seven with Kurosawa, Ozu, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Meiko Kaju and Studio Ghibli. Very impressive company.

    • I think this might end up on my Top Ten Films of all time list. Granted I have not attempted to put one together! I have King Kong vs. Godzilla coming up soon in the rotation. I hope it lives up to your high recommendation! LOL

      • You saw my review and know that I liked it. Thanks for the recommendation.
        These days I do not get to watch so many movies. I am with the family for a few days at the dead sea, and next week we are going two weeks to Denmark and Thailand. But likely when time is for it again I will re-watch this movie to absorb more of the details.

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