Lise’s review published on Letterboxd:
Wow. This film is stunning and not all what I expected.
It is deceptively simple. Tsugumo Hanshiro, an unemployed Samurai (a ronin) appears before a clan gate asking permission to commit seppuku. The lead retainer of the clan, Saito Kageyu, tries to discourage him with a tale of another Samurai who came before him with the same request.
Shot beautifully in black and white, the film explores the various shades of grey in between. It looks at the man behind the samurai, and the struggle he faces when the honourable thing to do as a samurai conflicts with the honourable thing to do as a man.
Similarly the film explores the nature of power and authority by examining one man's evolution from being empathetic and fair to wielding absolute power unilaterally with no regard to consequences.
But the genius of the film is that nothing is what it seems. You come to see the true nature of a samurai not through honourable battles but through the man and his courage and his love of family. You come to see the true nature of corrupt power not through violence or acts of injustice but through a man who seems to make reasonable decisions, one after another, until circumstances overwhelm him. You come to see that even seppuku, a strict ceremony with specific rules and traditions is fluid and changes with circumstance. Sometimes a seppuku is not a seppuku at all.
When the film begins it is black and white, but as it progresses you see nothing but shades of grey.