Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Olde Review: Hara-Kiri

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

"Hara-Kiri" aka "Seppuku" (Masaki Kobayashi, 1962) Well, now that I've got that off my chest,* perhaps I should talk about "Hara-Kiri," which has quite a number of similarities to "The Wild Bunch," and a few things of its own that any self-respecting film-watcher would goggle at.

First, to be very general, it is a samurai picture. The year is 1630, and Hashiro Tsugomo appears at the House of Iyi to ask permission of the honorable elder to commit suicide near his house. The elder doesn't want that, but he doesn't want to give this obviously impoverished samurai any money to prevent the act. This is just the first of a series of conflicts that occur between the two men from two classes.

The story itself will fascinate you as it fascinated me. It is directed by Masaki Kobayashi with the same devotion to rigid formality as a (director like) Sergio Leone, and (it's) just as full of beautiful scenes, as the one in which Tsugomo is told by his son-in-law that his grand-child is dead; his house, dark with shafts of light ripping through it, mists rising up inside the room. There's also a sequence of a samurai battle on a plain of tall grass, surrounded by dark brooding skies, which ranks with some of the best film I've ever seen.**

Like "The Wild Bunch," "Hara-Kiri" is bloody, what with sword-play and threatened sword-play. And like "The Wild Bunch," the ending has the protagonist trapped in a situation that will certainly take his life, as he is so outnumbered--it is only a matter of how many he can take with him before he succumbs to the inevitable. When he decides to fight, Tsugomo is committing hara-kiri of a much more honorable nature to himself, personally, than the ceremonial form. And, so, too, it might be said for The Wild Bunch.

"Hara-kiri" is in Japanese with English sub-titles, so, again, go early if you want to be in a position to read them.

A warning has been placed in The Daily's ad for these two films saying: "The depiction of violence in these two films is extensive and explicit. Please do not come if the prospect or reality of this bothers you." I second that warning.

Broadcast on KCMU-FM on October 28th and 29th

* This is a companion piece to my review of "The Wild Bunch"

** This sequence has stayed in my mind for three decades without my being able to recall what film this wonderfully achieved sequence originated from. It pays to re-read old reviews, no matter how painful it can be at times.

No comments: