Classic Movie Review: Harakiri (1962)

Title: Harakiri 
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.

Rating: ****1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending March 6

Seizing Freedom :: Reconstructing Family

This is a fairly new podcast that I just started listening to. I listened to all the back episodes this week and highly recommend it.  It is a history of Black Americans during the Civil War and Reconstruction who emancipated themselves and fought to gain political influence and equality.  Not only does it feature interviews with historians and scholars, but frequently we hear readings from primary documents allowing us to hear these Black people of a century and half ago in their own words.  The episode I chose stands out because it deals with an issue I’d never considered, how formerly enslaved people sought to find the parents, children, siblings, and spouses they’d been separated from by slavery.

Reparations: The Big Payback :: History of Reparations

Another new podcast also deals with slavery and the concept of reparations.  Hosted by Erika Alexander and Whitney Dow, the show deals directly with the tension of the reparations debate.  The episode I selected includes a timeline of the reparations movement from the Civil War era until now, done in a somewhat silly way.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021