Film Review: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

A remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is engrossing throughout. The 2011 film is a slow-burner with depth.

The early seventeenth-century Japan is a time of peace, leaving many samurai warriors without work. A warrior arrives at prestigious samurai house, wishing to commit ritual suicide as he cannot take the shame of being poverty-stricken. He is told a cautionary tale of a young man who arrived there two months ago, claiming to have the same intentions…

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is a fascinating exploration of the notions of honour and ritual suicide. The story retains the viewer’s attention throughout. As the narrative unfolds through flashbacks, it is clear where the story is heading. Nevertheless, it is crafted in a fashion that reels viewers in.

Takashi Miike’s direction is measured throughout Hara-Kiri. The cinematography and art direction is fantastic. There is a beautful contrast between the mostly monochromatic shades and the vibrant reds of the leaves. The sets, costumes and props all appear authentic for the film’s period setting.

Hara-Kiri is most suited to the drama category, despite its themes. The film features one of the most brutal death scenes in recent memory, yet for the most part the violence is restrained. Hara-Kiri is an unusual film to be screened in 3D. Although this adds depth, the darkness wearing the glasses causes is not worth the trade off. The film would be best viewed in 2D.

Hara-Kiri is a well-crafted film which places more emphasis on perspective and dialogue rather than action. A worthwhile watch.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.