Combustible Celluloid
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With: Koji Yakusho, Naoto Takenaka, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima, Ebizo Ichikawa
Written by: Kikumi Yamagishi, based on a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi
Directed by: Takashi Miike
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 126
Date: 05/19/2011

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2012)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Bamboo Streak

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Takashi Miike's Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is an odd duck. It's a remake of Masaki Kobayashi's great, classic Harakiri (1962), and presumably it came about thanks to the surprise success of Miike's remake of 13 Assassins last year. The new Hara-Kiri is not as violent, outlandish, or gory as Miike's reputation might lead one to expect. Even though, as the movie goes along, it feels awfully close in spirit to the original, small differences begin to crop up. And eventually we realize that Miike's version is indeed a great deal soapier than the original, which played more like a vicious chess game. Yes... that's right. Miike's remake is actually less intense than the original.

A poor ronin, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Ebizo Ichikawa), turns up at the house of a feudal lord, Kageyu (Koji Yakusho), asking to use the courtyard to perform a ritual suicide (the hara-kiri of the title). In peacetime, many such unemployed samurai are doing the same thing, but the lords have begun to catch on that many of these warriors are merely looking for handouts and have no intention of actually going through with their suicides. They tell Hanshiro the story of Motome (Eita), one such ronin that was forced to go through with his suicide, even though he only had a bamboo blade (he sold his steel ones).

This is the most typical Miike sequence in the film, that painful, lengthy suicide with the dull, flimsy bamboo blade. From there, the film goes into a long flashback, which I believe goes on much longer than in the original. The original revealed pieces of Hanshiro's plan a little at a time, when they were strategically necessary, and it became more of a game of clever suspense. Here, action is revealed too quickly, and drama is stretched out. Only the climactic sword fight -- initiated just as snow delicately begins to fall -- is impressive, but it's much shorter and less bloody and less enthralling than the one in 13 Assassins.

The other major difference here is color -- and 3D, if you see it in a theater, which I did not -- as opposed to the original's black-and-white. The dramatic sequences in the original were muted and more artistic. Now, with the color, these sequences, which include a sick baby, are far more realistic and harrowing; this only increases the soap factor. Overall, Miike's achievement is skilled and interesting, but no match for the original, and no match for his best films.

Tribeca Film (and, apparently, American Express) has released the U.S. Blu-ray version of this, with only one tiny extra: Geoffrey Gilmore from Tribeca Film Discusses Hara-Kiri.

Best Buy Co, Inc.