Harakiri (切腹 Seppuku?, 1962) is a Japanese jidaigeki (period-drama) film directed by Masaki Kobayashi. The story takes place between 1619 and 1630 during the Edo period and the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate. It tells the story of Hanshirō Tsugumo, a rōnin or warrior without a lord. 
Contents[edit | edit source]
Plot[edit | edit source]
In 1630, Tsugumo Hanshirō arrives at the estate of the Ii clan, looking for a suitable place to perform seppuku (akaharakiri). At the time, it is told, it was fairly common for disgraced samurai to make the same request, or threat, in the hope of receiving alms from the lord of the house. To deter him Saitō Kageyu (Rentarō Mikuni), counselor of the clan, tells Hanshirō a warning story wherein another rōnin, Chijiiwa Motome – formerly of the same clan as Hanshirō – had made the same request and the samurai retainers of the house forced him to complete the ceremony and kill himself. When Motome's sword is revealed to be a fake made of bamboo, they refuse to give him a blade and insist that he disembowel himself with the bamboo sword, so that Motome's death is agonizingly painful. Despite this warning, Hanshirō maintains his request to commit suicide.
While preparing for the ritual, Hanshirō recounts to Saitō and the retainers that his lord's house was toppled by theshogunate on a weak charge of dereliction of duty, whereupon his friend, another samurai, performed seppuku, leaving a note asking Hanshirō to look after his son, Chijiiwa Motome. Required to protect Motome and support his own daughter Miho, Hanshirō lived in poverty and worked menial jobs to support his family. Despite this he still maintained his sense of honor and dignity and refused to sell off his daughter to a rich Lord to be his concubine. On his urging Motome married his daughter Miho and had a son, Kingo, but continued to live in poverty. When Miho and Kingo became ill and could not afford to pay a physician, Motome became desperate and sold off his swords. But money was still lacking, in a last bid attempt to get some cash he traveled to the Ii clan house in Edo and tried to scam money off them by asking to commit seppuku in their courtyard. The retainers saw through his deception and lured him inside the estate with a false promise of promotion. There they forced him to commit ritual suicide using his bamboo sword. The Ii clan retainers returned his body back to his home mocking the poverty stricken family. Soon after, Miho and Kingo died from their illnesses.
Hanshirō then reveals that before coming to the Ii house, he tracked down two retainers of the house, Yazaki Hayato and Kawabe Umenosuke, whom he defeated easily and disgraced by cutting off their topknots. A third retainer, Omodaka Hikokuro, comes to Hanshirō's home and challenges him to a ritual duel. Hanshirō and Hikokuro climatically duel in a brief but tense sword fight, where Hanshirō breaks Hikokuro's sword. Instead of honorably surrendering, Hikokuro continues to fight and his topknot is taken as well.
When Hanshirō finishes his account, Saitō angrily orders the retainers to kill him; whereupon Hanshirō kills four and wounds eight while slowly succumbing to his wounds. When a new group of retainers arrive armed with guns, Hanshirō begins seppuku but is shot. Kawabe and Yazaki are ordered to perform seppuku, while Hikokuro is reported to have done so already; their deaths, and the four inflicted by Hanshirō, are to be reported as from "illness," lest word be spread that the Ii house has lost face to a rōnin.
Main cast[edit | edit source]
- Tatsuya Nakadai - Tsugumo Hanshirō
- Rentarō Mikuni - Saitō Kageyu
- Akira Ishihama - Chijiiwa Motome
- Shima Iwashita - Tsugumo Miho
- Tetsurō Tamba - Omodaka Hikokuro
- Ichiro Nakatani - Yazaki Hayato
- Yoshiro Aoki - Kawabe Umenosuke
- Masao Mishima - Tango Inaba
- Kei Sato - Masakazu
- Yoshio Inaba - Jinai Chijiiwa
Themes[edit | edit source]
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The film presents a negative view of the emerging feudal system at the beginning of the 17th century, depicting the hypocrisy in the flimsy pretext of honor exhibited by the daimyo. At the time, seppuku was seen as a means to retain one's honor after a disgrace or after losing ones daimyo or master. The vanity of the feudal lord's counselor Saitō is also shown: the outward appearance of honor is shown to be more important to him than real honor. He orders the retainers disgraced by Hanshirō to perform seppuku, and makes sure that those who were slain or had their topknots cut off by Hanshirō are written off as casualties to illness so that his house would not appear weak. An ironic commentary appears when Hanshirō is able to fight off a great many retainers with a sword, yet is helpless against three guns; a foreshadow of the Meiji Restoration, wherein sword-bearing samurai were defeated by the "new" Japanese military.
Reception[edit | edit source]
On February 23, 2012, Roger Ebert added 'Harakiri' to his list of "Great Movies". He writes "Samurai films, like westerns, need not be familiar genre stories. They can expand to contain stories of ethical challenges and human tragedy. Harakiri, one of the best of them, is about an older wandering samurai who takes his time to create an unanswerable dilemma for the elder of a powerful clan. By playing strictly within the rules of Bushido Code which governs the conduct of all samurai, he lures the powerful leader into a situation where sheer naked logic leaves him humiliated before his retainers."