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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday, April 24, 2014 - Edition No 894 

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HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI 3D

SYNOPSIS:
In 17th century Japan, seeking an honourable end, poverty-stricken Samurai, Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa), requests permission to commit ritual suicide in the large courtyard of the respected old House of Li, run by headstrong Kageyu (Koji Yakusho). But in the wake of a spate of suicide bluffs from other penniless ronin, Kaheyu warns Hanshiro by telling him the tragic story of another Samurai's agonizing suicide, that of Hanshiro's close friend Motome (Eita). Outraged by the story, Hanshiro sets in a motion a tense showdown of vengeance against the house of this feudal lord.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
I find Japanese culture confounding, with its bi-polar nature; on one hand, it has a brutish code of behaviour inherited from its warrior code traditions. On the other, there is sublime Japanese art and the coyingly overdone 'cute' factor that is evident in so many public displays, from tvcs to knick knacks and girlie wardrobe.

Takashi Miike doesn't 'do' cute; with Hara-Kiri he visits the historic roots of the warrior code - and shows up its lack of humanity. This tale of unemployed samurai - the ronin - comes from Yasuhiko Takiguchi's novel, a hard-nosed look at 17th century Japan. With peace comes poverty for the ronin, and honour is at stake; out of work ronin either turn to crime, find a new employer or commit hara-kiri. They lose life but save face.

Miike doesn't soften any of the arguments, nor does he make the film easy to watch. For starters, there is hara-kiri, and the first instance of it is attempted with a sword made of bamboo, since the poor sod of Motome (Eita) has had to sell his real sword to provide for his sick wife and baby. Secondly, the film is shot in the gloom of pre-electric Japan (and in 3D, more on that later) which ensures the lowest possible light source. (I am told the film actually looks 'brighter' than the preview screening suggests; if so, it's a great disservice to the film to show it so compromised.)

Allowing for that glitch to be imposed on it, Hara-Kiri is a cinematic work of art, presenting a world in which humanity is banished in favour of the rituals of an ever-warring people. Ironically of course, it is the lull in wars that has precipitated the state of affairs in which the many samurai now find themselves.

The camera stays relatively still to observe, closing for a mid shot and the occasional close up. Even in the dark, the meticulous production design provides a subconscious grounding, emphasising the reality of time and place. As for the use of 3D, it is as subtle as Ang Lee's Life of Pi, a gentle enhancement only rarely noticeable.

Ever present, but often in subtle, minimalist yet powerful cues, Ryuichi Sakamoto's marvellous score.

Told as a story within a story, Hara-Kiri has moral purpose and meaning, which gives the film a rich texture, something that impressed the selectors for the Festival de Cannes, where it screened in Competition in 2012.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI 3D (M)
(Japan/UK, 2011)

CAST: Ebizo Ichikawa, Koji Yakusho, Hikari Mitsushima, Eita, Munetaka Aoki

PRODUCER: Jeremy Thomas, Toshiaki Nakazawa

DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike

SCRIPT: Kikumi Yamagishi (novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Nobuyasu Kita

EDITOR: Kenji Yamashita

MUSIC: Ryuichi Sakamoto

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Yuji Hayadisha

RUNNING TIME: 126 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Icon

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 21, 2013







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