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Harakiri (Kobayashi, 1962)

Think of 12 Angry Men meeting Rashomon, and you'd get this superbly crafted “courtroom” drama called Harakiri. An aging samurai wishes to perform harakiri in the house of a samurai clan. However after learning about the gruesome methods which were carried out against another samurai, who happened to be his godson, he began to rebel against the the samurai code. Through flashbacks we witness how his godson, out of desperation for money, was forced to perform harakiri with a bamboo sword. This particular scene can be quite shocking for some; Kobayashi gives a no holds barred indictment of the ritualised act. The ending of this film is strongly reminiscent of Tarantino's Crazy 88 in Kill Bill part1.

Twenty minutes into the film and you have the aging samurai sitting in the courtroom, ready for his sacrificial ritual. Then, he begins to recount and narrate the story of his son to the rest of the samurai. It is interesting to note how calm and composed he is in the face of death. Now he is actually mocking the house of Iyi and all the samurai. These were the same people who embarrassed his godson earlier on.

This is an interesting technique which forces the viewer to be engaged in the flashbacks, while very aware that our protagonist is surrounded by blood-thirsty samurai who are more than willing to cut him down should he refuse to perform harakiri. One just cant wait for the finale which he already knows, right from the very start of the film, is surely inevitable.

The immaculate setting, the unflinching attitude of the samurai despite being mocked at, the samurais' refusal to apologise for their mistakes and the final attempt to cover-up the incident all point to the austerity and fanaticism of the “code of samurai” which Kobayashi intended to censure.

Question to ponder about: Why did the aging samurai commit harakiri at the end of this film when he clearly denounced the act of harakiri, claiming that the samurai code was merely a “facade”?

Grade: A