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Book & Film Reviews

HARAKIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI (2011) DVD

The film opens with Motome (Eita) a penniless ronin requesting to use a courtyard in the House Of Ii to commit harakiri, the House Of Ii however begins to suspect it is a ruse to gain sympathy and money. The house has seen this sting before so the head retainer (Koji Yakusho) calls Hanshiro's bluff and prepares for his "noble sacrifice"

Harakiri does everything right up until the end of the first act, then shifts into unnecessary backstory which becomes more unnecessary the more we see. I think Miike and screenwriter Kikumi Yamagishi should have started quietly with the family drama concerning Motome and his new family then revealed his fate after the first act. We might have lost a few surprises but would have gained greater dramatic weight as well as a terrific symmetrical switching of the protagonists, a sort of "Psycho" switch where Janet Leigh was replaced by Anthony Perkins half way through. Instead we suddenly sink into melodrama.
If you haven't seen the original version of this story (made in 1962) then this colour remake is decent but I can't help feeling Miike could have made it better by adding more pulp than solemn artistry. The final climax is too similiar to 13 Assassins and I would have also preferred to see a more formal style of swordplay from the "hero" then the idea of the House Of Ii teaching people a lesson would have been reciprocated by Tsugumo (Ebizu Ichikawa) teaching the house about honour but also skill perhaps even showing someone duelling before the retainer realises he's too good for them and all of the men must attack him, something they do as soon as Tsugumo reveals his bamboo sword and the retainer orders them to in the film.

The sudden appearance of snow (Shakespeare's sympathetic weather) is a nice touch but actually obscures some of the action, though the original is a jidai geki and not a chanbara the unstylized "messy" action implies Tsugumo's plan is suicide by proxy - but the original has a protracted duel (in a flashback) against Tetsuro Tamba no less, full of atmosphere and tension and detailed technique, it also reveals the villain's craftiness by trying to cheat by using the force of the wind against Tatsuya Nakadai's stance. In the remake Tamba's equivalent is just one of three men easily defeated.

The film looks amazing thanks to Nobuyasu Kita (who also shot 13 Assassins and Crows Zero 2 and yes Ninja Kids!!!for Miike) and there's some beautiful rustic settings and exquisitely designed costumes and wooden hangings and ornaments. Ryuchi Sakamoto's score is as lyrical as usual though even this sounds too traditional, Takashi Kitano's Zatoichi reboot broke this rule by having Keichi Suzuki's breakbeats soundtrack the action, perhaps next time we could hear Sakamoto's more experimental leanings such as the work he has delivered with Alva Noto on the celebrated German label - Raster Noton.

Consider this version the unnecessary colour remake that admittedly does look very colourful but it doesn't have the power of Masaki Kobayashi's original classic.

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