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Harakiri (1962)

Seppuku (original title)
Not Rated | | Action, Drama, History | 4 August 1964 (USA)
An elder ronin samurai arrives at a feudal lord's home and requests an honorable place to commit suicide. But when the ronin inquires about a younger samurai who arrived before him things take an unexpected turn.

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Akira Ishihama ...
...
...
Hikokuro Omodaka
Masao Mishima ...
Tango Inaba
Ichirô Nakatani ...
Hayato Yazaki
Kei Satô ...
Masakazu
Yoshio Inaba ...
Jinai Chijiiwa
Hisashi Igawa ...
Retainer
Tôru Takeuchi ...
Retainer
Yoshirô Aoki ...
Umenosuke Kawabe
Tatsuo Matsumura
Akiji Kobayashi
Kôichi Hayashi
Ryûtarô Gomi
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Storyline

Peace in 17th-century Japan causes the Shogunate's breakup of warrior clans, throwing thousands of samurai out of work and into poverty. An honorable end to such fate under the samurai code is ritual suicide, or hara-kiri (self-inflicted disembowelment). An elder warrior, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) seeks admittance to the house of a feudal lord to commit the act. There, he learns of the fate of his son-in-law, a young samurai who sought work at the house but was instead barbarically forced to commit traditional hara-kiri in an excruciating manner with a dull bamboo blade. In flashbacks the samurai tells the tragic story of his son-in-law, and how he was forced to sell his real sword to support his sick wife and child. Tsugumo thus sets in motion a tense showdown of revenge against the house. Written by Kevin Rayburn <kprayb01@homer.louisville.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Award Winner Cannes Festival 1963 See more »

Genres:

Action | Drama | History

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Details

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Release Date:

4 August 1964 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Harakiri  »

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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

While filming, Tatsuya Nakadai was afraid during most of the sword and spear fighting scenes because real swords were being used, a practice now forbidden in Japanese films. His concern was not alleviated even though professional swordsmen were employed during the choreographed swordplay. See more »

Quotes

Hanshiro Tsugumo: The greatest delicacies taste of nothing when one dines alone.
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Connections

Referenced in At the Movies: Cannes Film Festival 2011 (2011) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Eventually there is only one valid code of Honor, the Human one...
19 May 2008 | by (Lomé) – See all my reviews

Masaki Kobayashi studied art and philosophy before starting as assistant director at Shochiku studio. His oeuvre is guided by the need to understand the human condition. In the 1962 Hara-kiri aka Seppuku, we can clearly see the philosophic influence in this story about confrontation between Human condition and Rigid Code of a feudal society. The result of this confrontation is a multi layered masterpiece in which the clarity of the script, the perfection of the interpretation, and a very well balanced "mise en scène" make for a powerful film based on transgression: a genre transgression, a code transgression and an image transgression.

Most of Shambaras take place during the Edo Period but rather late in that period (just before the Meiji Era) as most filmmakers try to romanticize and glamorize the period which marks the end of the Samurai thus playing the nostalgia card. Here Masaki Kobayashi transgressed the genre and decided to film a story taking place in 1630, 17th century Japan during the Edo period. At that time Japan was ruled by a Shogunate (Ieyasu Tokugawa). The Tokugawa Shoguns established Peace and continued to rule Japan for a remarkable 250 years. But such a long period of Peace had a price and Ieyasu Tokugawa brought the whole country under tight control. He cleverly redistributed the land among the more loyal vassals, breaking up warrior clans thus throwing thousands of samurai into poverty.

In the film an elder ronin, Hanshiro Tsugumo, the hypnotic Tatsuya Nakadai (Goyokin) seeks admittance to the house of a feudal lord to commit the act of Seppuku as he can no longer stand his Life of Dishonor and Poverty. There, the administrator tells him about the fate of a young Samurai who committed the same suicidal ritual few times ago. But there is much more to this story and soon we understand that all protagonists are related one way or another. As the film progresses we witness a confrontation between two conceptions. One is based on a Human code; the other is based on a rigid traditional one.

Masaki Kobayashi uses both symbols and raw images to show this confrontation. The film starts with the Display of a Samurai shining battle armor representing the feudal system. The armor is empty of anything human and strongly symbolized the feudal system. Can a code make sense if it is followed without acknowledging the Human condition? This is in essence the question raised by "Hara-kiri". We see this armor soiled and dragged but at the end of the film the armor remains intact as if nothing had ever happened, as if changes in an given Society take some times to occur. Indeed social Progress has always been slow leaving Men and Women struggling with their condition.

The suicidal ritual, Hara-kiri reinforced the sense of cruelty. Raw images of Ronin opening their stomach with a sword were a transgression at that time (1962), still is today. In the film the ritual is portrayed in a non glamorized way and very realistically. It also symbolizes even for the Japanese audience the lack of sense in the act of Seppuku. In fact Hanshiro Tsugumo is the only one giving meaning to this act by motivating it with mixed feelings of Love, Revenge and Sorrow, in short with humanity.

With the film Hara-kiri, Masaki Kobayashi signed one of the greatest philosophical films. The script by Shinobu Hashimoto is a good example on how to make a story clear but more importantly sufficient enough for anybody to understand the drama, in one word universal. Also writer of Jôi-uchi: Hairyô tsuma shimatsu aka Samurai Rebellion (1967), Dai-bosatsu tôge (1966) aka Sword of Doom or "Hitokiri" aka Tenchu (1969), Shinobu Hashimoto is among the greatest writers of the 7th Art.

I can not recommend Seppuku enough, every single frame, acting, piece of music is irreproachable. The story is profoundly Humanist, timeless and universal. I suggest we all confront the codes of our respective societies in order to find out if they still make sense or if they are leading us towards a terrible social Hara-kiri


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