Harakiri is the story of an unemployed homeless samurai who uses the court of the sword fighters' courtyard to tell his gut-wrenching flashback tale to an unprepared jury of well-heeled warriors, shot in wide screen Grandscope with real swords being employed (as well as professional sword handlers) in all the swordplay scenes.
From the IMDB synopsis,
"We are May 13, 1630, in Edo. Following the centralization of power by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the early 17th Century, few feudal clans were allowed to remain, leading to a substantial downsizing (but not off-shoring) in the samurai profession. A scrawny former retainer of the Lord of Geishu arrives at the gates of the official residence of Lord Iyi. This mysterious and somber "ronin" (un-retained samurai), Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai), unemployed since the abolition of the Geishu Clan in 1619, requests the temporary hospitality of the Clan in order to end his life as a worthy samurai by committing harakiri.
Hanshiro is not the first ronin to come knocking at the door of one of the local remaining feudal clans with such a request, including one most recently at Lord Iyis residence itself. In the beginning of this recession, the surviving clans were impressed by the steadfast "samurai" and generously turned them away with small alms. Unfortunately, this practice led to abuses on the part of some destitute ronin who faked the desire to commit "harakiri" in the hope of employment or of a small financial relief while retaining their lives."
Sounds like modern times—a formerly loyal clan servant appears to be faking the need for a rapt audience and a still-wealthy estate courtyard for the performance of a supposedly honorable suicide in a desperate attempt to receive a fraction of what would constitute a true bailout.
And remember this: They hadn't yet instituted the current laws forbidding real sword play in Japanese cinema yet. That guy standing by for the merciful beheading is actually capable of decapitating the one who might be begging for alms.
Fortunately the film plays itself out in a much more complex and intelligent interpretation of tragedy than our current administration's public debacle.
I wonder if the phrase gut-wrenching originated in the context of seppuku, or in the context of my gut's response to our current dull-edged stock-market suicide.
Kobayashi is compared to Resnais in the context of this piece, but if Kobayashi were Resnais, I'd have commited Harakiri during the opening credits. I'm still recovering from The Last Year at Marienbad (Yes, LYAM is a masterpiece. Yes, it's hellishly long and boring. Yes, I feel quite ambivalent about it being both a masterpiece and hellishly long and boring.)
Harakiri, on the other hand, made me want to live another day and count my coup before it's hatcheted.
I know that the above sentence doesn't make stylistic sense, but this is my blog and I'll cry wolf if I wont two. The tragedy of the bamboo blade is something one may refer to when thinking of hawking grandmother's silver cutlery next month.
Barbara Jane Reyes says,
"This is simply one of my most favorite Tatsuya Nakadai roles ever (yes, even over Lord Hidetori in Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, which really was written not for him, but for Toshirô Mifune).I won't go into further detail about the profundity of the ending for fear of lopping off your sacred topknot.
The effectiveness of this film is so reliant upon Nakadai’s being able to sit in one place, the central courtyard in seppuku position (as above), for the duration of the film… he heartbreakingly relives his familial losses, he practices his cunning and deception to challenge and upend the arcane and corrupt feudal system against which he rebels, then proceeds to whup some serious samurai ass as a one-man wrecking machine… using this enclosed space to his strategic benefit."