Starring: Ebizô Ichikawa, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima
Director: Takashi Miike
Running Time: 128 mins
Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai is a Japanese film about a ronin who arrives at the estate of a clan stating he wishes to commit seppuku in its courtyard. However, things take an unexpected turn after the story of a previous ronin with similar wishes is revealed.
This is a brilliant film. An updated remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s legendary jidaigeki Harakiri, Takashi Miike’s Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai does everything a great remake should do, retaining the brilliant story storytelling of the original, while bringing any dated elements right up to date, with stunning action and visuals that give the movie a pulsating and gripping energy throughout.
Firstly, let’s talk about the story, which is utterly enthralling from beginning to end. While it may start slowly, as we see a ronin – a masterless samurai – wander into a feudal lord’s estate, the intricacy of the story really takes off when layer upon layer of backstory and hearsay is brought into play, as we learn about why this ronin has come to be in this position, as well as what happened to the last man who was in the same place.
In that, the film utilises brilliant non-linear storytelling to create mystery and drama in a way that a more orthodox story structure could never have done. It requires a little bit of patience at first, but within 20 minutes, the complexity of what’s really going on beneath the surface becomes apparent, and the story keeps surprising with more and more twists and turns throughout, making it a thoroughly gripping watch all the way through.
Remaking an absolute classic like Harakiri isn’t an easy thing to do, but Miike does a stunning job here, taking lessons and inspiration from classic filmmaking and applying it where necessary to make this a faithful remake, all the while subtly and appropriately applying updated cinematic techniques to bring the story to life in a modern fashion.
As a result, the big widescreen format and the film’s slow and strikingly quiet atmosphere means that it wouldn’t have looked out of place in the cinemas of the 1960s, while more modern filmmaking is applied in more dynamic camerawork and more dynamic action sequences. Throughout, Hara-Kiri really does feel like a classic movie, and that’s what makes it so striking, but it’s that use of modern techniques that add the little bit of flair necessary to make it entirely accessible to cinemagoers of the current age.
On top of that, the lead performances play a big role in the film’s enthralling emotional drama as well. The screenplay isn’t just about samurai thrills and spills, there’s also real emotional depth to every single twist and turn, and without the brilliant turns from the leads, Ebizô Ichikawa and Eita in particular, that wouldn’t translate onto the big screen in such fine fashion.
Once again, it all feels like it’s a classic jidaigeki, and the lead performances honour that perfectly, with intensity and theatrics that wouldn’t look out of place alongside legends like Tatsuya Nakadai or Toshirô Mifune, and as such, you’re able to feel the emotion and passion coming from their characters in thrilling fashion, all the while staying thoroughly engrossed by the film’s classic style.
Overall, I loved Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai. As far as remakes go, it’s a great one, that proves a triumphant display of old-school filmmaking, brilliantly paying homage to the legendary jidaigeki of the 1950s and 60s, yet with enough modernity and updated filmmaking techniques to fit in well with the current era of cinema. It’s a thoroughly exciting watch throughout, with a stunningly intricate story and some brilliant performances, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.0.