jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
What is Honor? In Japanese culture, Honor is the beating heart of the warrior: to keep face, keep representation, and keep the motif of power. Seppuku, to Japanese culture, is Honor in the Samurai code; to jam a knife or sword into your chest, cut across in order to disembowel yourself, and have another reliable, obedient Samurai remove your head in the middle of excruciating pain. In other countries, their representation of Honor differs. My Honor, your Honor, it's all different. In Masaki Kobayashi's "Harakiri," it does something I've rarely seen in Japanese Cinema: it criticizes Honor.
Throughout the films of Akira Kurosawa, Honor is shown and used as a driving force for his characters, most notably "Seven Samurai." But in "Harakiri," Kobayashi doesn't dramatize Honor and Seppuku as an act of Honor, instead choosing to show the cause and effect that it has and the reasons behind it; "Harakiri" begins with an aging ronin named Tsugumno as he arrives at the estate of the Li clan with the request to commit Seppuku. The counselor, Kageyu, agrees after warning him about the story of another samurai who died at the estate, Chijiiwa.
But it doesn't seem as simple as Kobayashi sets it up to be. You check the runtime of the film and you're reaching 30 minutes. There's an hour-thirty left of the film? What's the trick? What Kobayashi does is simple: layer his theme. Tsugumno reveals his life's story in the courtyards and thus, the film begins its motion. What follows is a story of pain, of falsehood, of responsibility, of deception, trickery, and façade. "Harakiri," in each brushstroke, deconstructs the Honor code as manipulative nonsense; no Japanese film becomes as critical of samurai lifestyle as this. No film cuts as hard as the knife in the chest. And no Japanese film is as angry as this one. The film becomes a chess game of logic and reasoning vs. Honor and quota; "Harakiri" becomes a sort of voice for those who've lost their way with the Feudal system's power and codes, it's critical of a life that films have portrayed for years, and no samurai film made afterwards won't be thought of as the same. "Harakiri," to be blunt, changed the game forever.
Families destroyed, people die, but all in the name of Honor, right? What is Honor?