Release Date: September 16, 1962
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Production Company: Shochiku
In 1630, in Edo, a ronin, a samurai without a master, arrives the estate of the Iyi clan, requesting to be allowed to commit ritual suicide in their courtyard. Tsugumo Hanshirō (Tatsuya Nakadai) claims that he’d rather die than suffer the humiliation of living in poverty since his own clan was dissolved. The response of the senior counselor of the estate is Saitō Kageyu (Rentarō Mikuni) is “not again.” It had become a shameful practice of ronin to bluff at committing suicide in hopes of getting money or even a position in the palace. Hanshirō insists that he doesn’t intend to leave the estate alive, and as he prepares for seppuku, or harakiri, he tells a story that challenges the honor of the Iyi clan and the samurai code (bushido).
On the surface, Harakiri is a revenge story and an examination of the historical morality of the samurai. But it is also a metaphor for how the wealthy elite fail in the moral responsibility for the working people. The samurai who are discarded because they are no longer needed represent the laboring people whose work and lives are often seen as disposable. Watching this just after Parasite, makes me see a lot of parallels between the two very different movies.
The movie is well-directed and well-acted. There’s a real slow burn as the details of Hanshirō’s story build upon one another. And there’s also a long time of building tension before the swords come out for the inevitable samurai battles, which turn out to be very gory. Harakiri is a powerful, thoughtful, and moving film, and I highly recommend it.