Notable Cast: Ichikawa Ebizo, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima, Naoto Takenaka, Munetaka Aoki
The career that Takashi Miike has built for himself started in the trenches of straight to home video exploitation entertainment, but it has not remained contained to that kind of ideology. Often enough he returns to it to accomplish a variety of different films, but it doesn’t define his career in whole. In fact, he wholly brought the classic samurai genre back with a vengeance recently with a double dose of samurai film remakes. His first, 13 Assassins, was a stunning epic built on phenomenal character drama and a blood soaked finale. His second film, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai and the focus of this review, is even more subtle than the first. Gone are most of the violent and over the top grotesque elements that Miike built his career on and in their place is impeccable atmosphere and a heartbreaking narrative that is as potent as anything he has delivered on film. This leaves Hara-Kiri one of the best films in Miike’s long and diverse catalog.
When a ronin (Ichikawa Ebizo) appears at the doors of the House of Ii asking to use their courtyard for suicide, they are reluctant to allow him. Just two months prior they had an incident with another young ronin asking for the same request. However, something seems amiss with this latest caller. He has a story to tell the various individuals of the house - a story that involves the young samurai from two months prior.
|A lost ronin. A roamin' ronin, if you will.
Outside of its thematic grace, Hara-Kiri also executes its narrative in a very effective manner. Half of the film is told in flash backs, although not nearly as cheesy as it might seem, and it makes a lot of sense as it pieces itself together for the audience. The film is powered by some great performances, subtle for a lot of the secondary actors and featuring a strong arc for Ebizo, and Miike – like always – has an impeccable ability to craft a realistic and still symbolic energy for the visuals of the film. Don’t expect the manic feel of some of his more popular films, but Hara-Kiri carries a heaviness in its tone and visuals that hits the narrative in a way that couldn’t have been nearly as effective if done otherwise. This is a film about losing purpose, done with the realistic and mastery of a director who understands how all of the layers need to fit together to make it cohesive.
|"Hey guys, I'm here for the party."