Thursday, March 12, 2015

一命 (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) (2011)

Director: Takashi Miike
Writers:  Kikumi Yamagishi, Yasuhiko Takiguchi (Novel)
Cast:       Koji Yakusho, Munetaka Aoki, Naoto Takenaka
Language: Japanese

A tale of revenge, honor and disgrace, centering on a poverty-stricken samurai who discovers the fate of his Ronin son-in-law, setting in motion a tense showdown of vengeance against the house of a feudal lord. 

Ronin (浪人)-A master-less samurai in feudal Japan.
Seppuku/Harakiri (切腹)-A form of ritual suicide by Japanese Samurai done by stomach stabbing while another samurai acting as their second by cutting off their head.

Film is a remake of Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 film 'Harakiri'. We are familiar with glorification of Samurais through several Japanese films and even some Hollywood ones. The film that Miike directed just prior to this film was also one such action film- '13 Assassins'. But in this one, the ludicrousness of Samurai honor and rituals  is the central theme which is a subversion of the genre. It was common in Japan for Ronins to commit harakiri at some noble house. There could be people feigning Seppuku so that they get money from the nobles who try to dissuade them. Film begins with an old Samurai requesting a Lord at a noble house to commit harakiri there. The Lord tells him the story of another one that came there recently to extract money by feigning Seppuku. In order to set an example, the Lord forces him to commit Harakiri. Then the old samurai proceeds to tell his own story and we learn that the other one was his son-in-law who needed money to provide medical care for his feverish son and wife. He calls them out on the ridiculousness of their tradition of honor and highlights that the fate of a samurai is very much in the hands of blind chance. The Japanese title of the film translates as 'A Life'.

The depiction of abject poverty and hunger is not something that we associate with these kind of films and Miike continue to surprise everyone with the choices that he makes. It is hard too keep up with his vast body of work, and all the films that I've seen from him have met a minimum quality standard with some of them being outright great (Odishon, 13 Assassins, Dead or Alive). In this one also he leaves a very hard to watch scene of tremendous violence involving Harakiri with bamboo sword. I guess it wouldn't be a Miike film if it doesn't make you squirm at some point. As is expected from Miike, cinematography is excellent but I would have preferred to watch a better quality print of the film. It is the first 3-D films to get official selection at Cannes and overall it is a great watch. The first film that I saw of his was 'Ichi the Killer' and I stopped after watching for about thirty minutes because of the violence. Finished it the next day with the conclusion that it is a comedy film. 

Rating: 4/5