13
May
2013
Brief: Harakiri / Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai
Harakiri / Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai
Jordan
(This Brief discusses both the original and the Takeshi Miike remake):

A few days behind in updating on these two. Had a long plane flight and decided it would be interesting to do a side-by-side comparison between Masaki Kobayashi's original and the recent Takeshi Miike remake. The original is a classic samurai film that completely lives up to its reputation and is easily one of the best films in the genre I've seen. It's a small-scale story of a Ronin who comes to a palace in a time of peace intending to commit harakiri in their forecourt and end his life of poverty. Obviously, things aren't exactly how they seem, and the film uses the moments in which he prepares to die to frame two narratives that are more closely tied than they might first appear. This is a classically paced film of the era, which means a lot of slow, languorous takes and mood setting, but the set design, costumes, and score are all incredible, and Tatsuya Nakadai gives a stellar central performance, simultaneously intense and grimly humorous in a way only samurai films ever seem to achieve.

The film is surprisingly brutal for 1962, which is humorous considering Miike's remake is surprisingly tame for 2012 (Especially considering the director's penchant for ultra-violence). This is Miike at his most restrained, in every sense of the word. The film is, for long stretches, a shot-for-shot remake (somehow dodging the soulless feel of Gus Van Sant's Psycho, even as its doing something fairly similar). This is a more classic film from Miike, who seems to be increasingly fascinated with his country's cinematic history and style in the last few years (his 13 Assassins owed a large debt to Kurosawa's Seven Samurai). The film is deliberately paced, albeit slightly more compact than the original, and full of the long takes that the country was known for during the period of the original. Ebizo Ichikawa plays the central character with much more focused intensity, but ultimately, the performance loses something for his lack of Nakadai's darkly playful attitude. Miike's biggest changes come in the climactic battle sequences, which are definitely staged and choreographed to track modern sensibilities far more than the original's. Overall, the 1962 version is the better film, with a stronger sense of place, a more captivating lead performance, and a surer sense of its ultimate message (one, admittedly minor, change Miike makes to the film's end sequence undercut one of my favorite moments in the original for no clear purpose). However, both are worth your time, and Miike's faithfulness to the original makes these interesting candidates for a double feature, so long as you don't mind essentially watching the same film twice.

Read more of Jordan's Film Criticism here
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