An tale of revenge, honor and disgrace, centering on a poverty-stricken samurai who discovers the fate of his ronin son-in-law, setting in motion a tense showdown of vengeance against the house of a feudal lord. Takashi Miike’s remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 Hara-kiri is such mature filmmaking I almost forget that Miike is responsible for such zany films such as Zebraman and Ichi the Killer. For his follow-up to last year’s excellent 13 Assassins, Takashi Miike has opted to stay within the samurai genre though this time around, he’s focusing his energy on the other end of the spectrum. The tension is found in the reason Hanshiro has brought himself to the House of Ii and why three of their samurai have gone missing.
The film follows the pacing that takes its time to develop before exploding in a wonderful action sequence. As the narrative unfolds through flashbacks, it is clear where the story is heading. Nevertheless, it is crafted in a fashion that reels viewers in. Changes from Kobayashi’s film at the beginning and end were distracting as they weren’t changes for the better, as Takashi doesn’t seem to be able to go far in his career without courting some kind of subversive element. It’s a shame that Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai doesn’t live up to the power of the original, as this could have been a bold and powerful statement Miike could have had on the world. Perhaps he bit off a bit more than he could chew, trying to remake such a well recieved film, however.
My advice is you need to see both beginning by Kobayashi one as any human being should experience this story, one movie is a masterpiece of film making and give a great lesson to the viewer, the other is a smart adaptation of the screenplay and gives a great lesson to the characters of the movies, both are good to watch if you are a filmmaker, a movie reviewer or a movie addict. The best scene in the film is by far the horrific scene in which Motome is forced to commit Seppuku, with the wooden blade, is painfully brutal and perfectly distills the kind of intensity Miike has become famous for. But just as you begin to salivate in anticipation of the action apparently about to unfold, the movie dives back in time, which I’m sure will give jaded critics something else to complain about.
But although there’s plenty of touching moments, the middle section is overlong, overwrought and just plain baggy. By the time the fighting comes in at the end, your focus has long since wandered. That said, Ebizo Ichikawa is excellent as Hanshiro and despite playing the same role made famous by the wonderful Tatsuya Nakadia, Ichikawa is very memorable in this new version of the story, making the role very much his own. Miike’s vivid depiction of feudal Japan is simply jaw-dropping and if you haven’t noticed, there was quite a few things to like, but many negative things to take away as well. If I didn’t know any better, I’d grade this film right down the middle, but it is extra heartbreak knowing Miike had an opportunity here to do something truely unforgettable.