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Seppuku/Harakiri

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I am having a nervous breakdance
Before I went to work yesterday I watched the extraordinary film Seppuku (english title: Harakiri) (1962) by director Masaki Kobayashi. It's a great piece of work.

I don't know really if this is a review, I just wanted to catch your attention because I think you all should check it out, especially the Kurosawa fans of the site.

Just as a in a lot of Kurosawa's films you can see the references to american westerns as well as you can see from what films directors like Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino got a lot of inspiration from.

Seppuku is set in Japan during the 17th century and peace is prevailing in the Edo province. A good thing, you would think, but the peace has lead to that a lot of samurais are actually out of work and it has driven them to poverty. The samurais weren't allowed to take ordinary people's jobs, and to beg for money or food is disgraceful for the samurai who lives by a very strict code of honor. A samurai would rather commit suicide by harakiri (ripping your own stomache open with a sword) than degrading himself to beggary. Some samurais, however, went to wealthy clans and asked for permission to commit harakiri inside the clan's castle just so the master of the castle would feel sorry for them and give them some money and send them away again. This misuse of the samurai code of honor was of course loathed among the proud samurais and this is what the film is about.

I won't tell you much more about the story itself. Just like in a lot of Tarantino films, it is told in flashbacks. An old and poor samurai veteran comes to this wealthy castle and actually tell both the castle master and his samurais the story at the same time as he tells the audience about it. Very cool. It is masterfully constructed so the first impressions you get of the characters in the beginning of the movie is completely changed as the story is revealed. As I mentioned before, the film has the feel of a western and especially a spagetti western (which came first?) but the japanese style is always dominating. Just as in Kurosawa films, if not as obvious, the director uses symmetric positions and compositions a lot, which is typical for japanese cinema.

It is not really an action movie and it is rather slow paced. But the supsence is increasing as the film moves forward. And there are a couple of really cool sword fights in it. Everything is accompanied by really simple and effectful music. (Once again a reference to spagetti westerns and Morricone). It is about the code of the samurai and the hypocrisy surrounding it. It is at the same time a celebration of the "real" samurais who, in spite of their poverty, always put honor and unselfishness in the first room. The film also brings a timeless social criticism into the picture in a way.

Think Sergio Leone meets Reservoir Dogs, scripted by Akira Kurosawa.
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The novelist does not long to see the lion eat grass. He realizes that one and the same God created the wolf and the lamb, then smiled, "seeing that his work was good".

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They had temporarily escaped the factories, the warehouses, the slaughterhouses, the car washes - they'd be back in captivity the next day but
now they were out - they were wild with freedom. They weren't thinking about the slavery of poverty. Or the slavery of welfare and food stamps. The rest of us would be all right until the poor learned how to make atom bombs in their basements.



i saw this movie quite a while ago and liked it a lot at the time.

i only remember bits and pieces of the violent human interst/revenge plot, especially the ending. i like how the guy's moral code forces him to seek his revenge in this ultra-straightforward way but doesnt it seem a bit self-rightous?

anyhow interesting movie. maybe if i remembered it better i'd have more to say about it.

over the summer i saw another one from the sixties, 'sword of doom'. it had toshiro mifune as the antihero, this sort of lone gun samurai-bastard, but the opposite of his characters in sanjuro and yojimbo, he was really a total prick who instead of wandering from town to town doing good deads and getting drunk, he wandered around getting drunk and making enemies. it wasnt anything all that clever and never really resolved itself, but i liked it all the same, it was something different from the other samurai movies i've seen, and also the most violent of them. i recommend it.

i'd really like to see more samurai films, as well as more spaghetti westerns. kurosawa and leone are both canonical but i'd like to get a broader frame on the genres, and it seems both of these are a decent place to start.



I am having a nervous breakdance
Originally Posted by linespalsy
i saw this movie quite a while ago and liked it a lot at the time.

i only remember bits and pieces of the violent human interst/revenge plot, especially the ending. i like how the guy's moral code forces him to seek his revenge in this ultra-straightforward way but doesnt it seem a bit self-rightous?
No, I don't think so. He came to the castle and all he wanted was to tell his story and to make the master admit that he was wrong when he had forced the veteran samurai's son-in-law to commit harakiri and in a very sadistic way too. Then this man, "the avenger", wanted to commit harakiri too and join his family "on the other side". But the castle master instead ordered that he would be hacked to pieces by the master's samurais, so the poor veteran samurai had to defend himself, and did so galantly.