Review: Takashi Miike's Passionate 'Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai' is Unforgiven For The Sword Set
I find it both interesting and inspiring that famed filmmaker Takashi Miike has decided once again to stay in the realm of the samurai. In his last five-star outing "13 Assassins," Miike showed a real flair for capturing both Japanese history and some bloody swordfights, all the while holding onto his fabulous signature style. While his new film "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" does still have its share of visceral material, there’s an emotional and deeply dramatic tone to Miike’s work and the result is a film that’s heavy with powerful reflection – think "Unforgiven" for the sword set.
The film centers on the idea of ritual suicide by fellow samurai and the use of such a powerful request as a bluff to procure money in lieu of death. Motome has arrived at the house of no-nonsense lord Kageyu Saito, whose courtyard he has asked for the privilege of using to kill himself. After hearing stories of a so called ‘Suicide Bluff’, the mighty Saito decides to make an example out the weary Motome and carry out his insincere seeming final request no matter what – but he is not alone.
There are some vague vibes in the above description, but as a story told as a jumbled sequence tale, the element of freshness is part of what gives the film its zeal. But amidst the confident swordplay and well-choreographed metal work, there’s an equally powerful drama within and it’s a real testament to the accomplished directing by Miike. Using both samurai and hara-kiri as a moody Japanese backdrop, there’s a real authentic feels to the heavy emotional the flick houses. All three of his leads – Eita as the young and naïve Motome, Ebizo Ichikawa as the sullen Kageyu and Hikari Mitsushima as the hopeful Miho – are fabulously raw and real and provide the heart of Hara-Kiri. Again there are some gruesome scenes of blood and guts (the final battle sequence gives the hallway scene in "Oldboy" a run for its money!), but it’s the emotional impact of the piece that stands out here. Like a master craftsman trying new things, Miike has never been so passionately poignant and it marks new territory conquered by the fine filmmaker.
With his recent genuine interest in all things Japanese and desire to stay true to the authenticity of his roots, Miike has become quite a cinematic enigma. But don't be fooled by the harsh work of his past – Miike’s now a master of what moves us.
"HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI" OPENS IN SELECT THEATERS JULY 20 FROM TRIBECA FILMS.
Cast: Ebizo Ichikawa, Koji Yakusho, Eita
Director: Takashi Miike
Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 128 Minutes
Release Company: Tribeca Film
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