David Pearce’s review published on Letterboxd:
Film Club May 24th - May 26th
"but in a world of peace there is no hope"
Simply excellent doesn't begin to cover how magnificent Harakiri is. Nearly flawless in both story telling and visuals, Masaki Kobayashi 1962 classic deserves no less than to be called a masterpiece.
An ex-warrior, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai) seeks admittance into a house in order to commit Harakiri (the act of committing suicide by self-inflicted disembowelment). While waiting to commit the act, he tells the tale of how his son-in-law (Akira Ishihama) came to the house before him and was forced to commit Harakiri. This sets in motion a showdown between Tsugumo and the house as an act of revenge.
The way in which the narrative unfolds is absolutely wonderful. The film opens with us meeting the son-in-law and soon after seeing his suicide, and the rest of the film is the explanation as to why he was put in that situation. Interestingly, because it was told as Tsugumo's flashbacks, we only got his recollections of the story, which left out act itself, which we'd already seen at the start anyway. The script, written by the legendary Shinobu Hashimoto, is extremely well executed and explains all the proceedings perfectly. While shamefully I can't say I'm too familiar with his prior work, I have to say that a lot of the lines were extremely profound and complimented by the great elegance of their delivery. Tatsuya Nakadai put his heart and soul in his performance, this was especially evident in the last battle where he seemed genuinely out of breath. The rest of the cast, particularly Akira Ishihama, were surprisingly expressive in the face, a quality often reserved for silent cinema. This trait truly added some character to each actor, for the vocal performances were sometimes lacking.
The relatively long run time almost felt like a 2 hour 15 minutes exploration into cinematography. One-Point Perspectives were a shock to see in an Eastern production, not so much a shock but still commendable were the restricted yet tasteful use of dutch shots. There were also often very dramatic shifts in lighting throughout high tension scenes, while not entirely subtle, these gave the film near theatrical feeling visuals. A minor complaint I did have were the constant shots of peoples backs while they were talking. While this would be excusable in other cases, as I said prior, the voice acting were not always top notch, so at the beginning of the film it would be difficult to distinguish who said what. I say minor complaint, because I still thought the shots were very aesthetically pleasing and served to give a sense of superiority in the scene. The fight scenes were also shot very tastefully, relying more on the implication of violence than showing us massive amounts of gore. But when there were shots of gore, the practical effects still hold up surprisingly well and the actors always acted with the correct corresponding weight with each blow.
A perfect combination of stunning visuals, wonderful story telling, excellent dialogue and phenomenal acting, Harakiri is without a doubt one of the great masterpieces of cinema. Thoroughly recommend all who are reading this to watch this film.