Harakiri (1962)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, Samurai Film  |   Release Date - Sep 16, 1962 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 135 min.  |   Countries - Japan  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Costello

Arguably Kobayashi's masterpiece, the austere tale of revenge is a brilliant assault on the latent hypocrisy and cruelty in the code of the samurai. The film takes place in peaceful 17th century Japan, where unemployed samurai warriors were forced to beg alms from feudal lords through the supposedly empty ritual of offering to commit ritual suicide. When such a samurai is forced by a lord to actually commit hara-kiri rather than being given alms, his father-in-law Tatsuya Nakadai seeks revenge. Kobayashi turns the sacred code of bushido inside out, pointing out that the notions of honor and obedience it exalts can easily be twisted to serve evil ends. Although it excoriates empty ritual, the film is permeated with the sense that the protagonist is enacting something like a holy rite, and the atmosphere is galvanized by the great Nakadai, who gives a performance of almost frighteningly controlled intensity. Not to be ignored is the impact of the carefully composed black-and-white photography of Yoshio Miyajima, a key component of this astonishing film.