Joshua Brunsting

by: Joshua Brunsting
May 24th, 2011

Rating: 2/5

Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Kikumi Yamagishi
Cast: Ebizô IchikawaEitaHikari Mitsushima

Remakes are an interesting beast.  Not only do they rarely play prestigious film festivals like Cannes, but also, they rarely get talent behind it quite like the talent behind the new remake of the Masaki Kobayashi film, HARAKIRI.

Entitled HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI, the film finds director Takeshi Miike returning to the world of samurai films, after his fellow 2011 release, the brilliant 13 ASSASSINS.  However, it also finds Miike working in unfamiliar territory, 3D, and to quite mixed results.

The film, produced by the ASSASSINS team of Jeremy Thomas and Toshiaki Nakazawa, follows the tale of Hanshiro Tsugumo, a penniless ronin who after his son is forced to kill himself with a bamboo sword after asking to commit ritual suicide, heads to the house of a local lord to try and exact revenge.  The first 3D film selected to be part of competition at the Cannes Film Festival, HARA-KIRI is also a glowing example as to why not all films should be in the maligned format, no matter the way it was shot, or converted.

Featuring a really solid cast, the performances given to this otherwise mediocre attempt at a revenge thriller really give you something to chew on.  Kabuki artist Ebizo Ichikawa stars as Hanshiro, and is the epitome of a badass ronin, with absolutely nothing to lose.  He has watched his family unit grow into a burgeoning clan, and wholly fall apart, so while the character itself is easy to fall in love with, the truth and conviction Ichikawa gives the performance really makes this a masterful turn.  He’s great in the scarce action set pieces, and is even better when asked to use his physicality in other ways, be it jokingly, or attempting to instill a sense of emotion within the audience.

Eita is also great as the son in question here, Motome, a young man who after finding out his son and wife are ill, goes to the house of a lord, trying to find charity by committing a suicide bluff.  However, when the ronins have enough of his bluffing, they force him to take his life, sending the father’s action into motion. Hikari Mitsushima plays his wife, Miho, and Koji Yakusho plays the lord Kageyu, both giving equally top notch performances.

However, when it comes to the visual style of the film, much is to be desired.

When discussing the visual style of HARA-KIRI, it’s tough to not point out how utterly pointless the film’s use of 3D was.  Wholly superficial, a relatively small scale narrative is blisteringly dull when put into the third dimension on screen, adding about as much depth to the frame as two colored pieces of construction paper ontop of each other, and with just about as much visual style.  There are a few moments, particularly near the end of the film, that are covered in Miike’s patented bluntness and brutality, but absolutely nothing about this film says “shoot me in 3D,” and what’s an even bigger issue is that it instead takes much away from the film’s style.

That said, there are a few brief moments, particularly involving the major narrative moment of hara-kiri by bamboo sword, that really hold up quite well.  Miike also has a great hold over mythology and mood, combining the intense samurai story with brief, but powerful, moments of tenderness and even in many cases comedy.  It’s this deftness with both tone and atmosphere that really saves an otherwise visually dull and wholly uninteresting film from being purely unwatchable.

Overall, DEATH OF A SAMURAI is not the worst film around.  That said, it’s neither a breathtaking look at a man out for revenge, nor a worthless pile of cinematic vomit.  All in all, it simply lays there on screen, inspiring very little emotion or intrigue.  It’s perfectly distilled cinematic mediocrity that goes on a tad too long, and is a tad too weak visually to make worth your while.

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