Harakiri ★★★★½

Masaki Kobayashi is kind of like the Scorsese to Kurosawa's Spielberg. (At least, in regards to this movie and the four Kurosawa features I've seen). "Harakiri" is more stylized and much darker than any Kurosawa movie I've seen, and the ending reminded me unnervingly of "Taxi Driver", both in the way the camera surveys the carnage and the interpretation of the facts by outsiders (in "Taxi Driver", the killer is seen as a hero, while in "Harakiri", the killing of four retainers is chocked up to an "illness"). The blood spatter effects, far more advanced than Kurosawa, also reminded me of Scorsese's film.

What makes "Harakiri" so good is its central theme of perception and how it toys with its audience. At the beginning of the film, we are presented with a cut-and-dry scenario that eventually becomes flipped on its head. We initially root against the characters who later become the protagonist. In its use of flashbacks, it can be compared with "Rashomon", but unlike that film, everything we see is the truth (it is only sometimes hidden to the characters).

I also call this film Scorsese-like, at least when compared to Spielberg, because of the lack of action and the focus on morals. Spielberg mostly makes action-packed popcorn spectacles, while Scorsese is usually much quieter and reflective. Same here. There is basically no action until the end, and the final battle is intermittently cut away from. But the impact of those few action scenes is much greater. I could not avert my eyes from the third duel that takes place on the windswept mountainside.

The primary reason I couldn't avert my eyes, I think, is the beautiful cinematography. Almost every shot in this film is kind of jaw-dropping to look at, and the zooms, dutch angles, and zooms & dutch angles make the film an aesthetic masterpiece. Plus, there's an eerie score that made me think this was going to be a ghost/horror movie (at least partly) during the first half (that suit of samurai armor is iconic).

For the record, though: Scorsese > Kurosawa > Spielberg (have only seen one Kobayashi, so I can't rank him yet)

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