ALL3920 Week 11

| 19 Comments

Position papers please.

19 Comments

Harakiri is a beautiful, and very painful film to watch. At times the music can be a little melodramatic, particularly in the very first scene, and often times again when after someone says something dramatic and there is a subsequent close up shot of either the speaker or the person being spoken to. Aside from those instances, I thought the music was very appropriate and effective; I appreciate when a movie is confident enough to have very little background music.
I particularly like the painful scene in the beginning of the film where the retainer at the temple tells the ex-warrior about the previous ex-warrior from the Geishu clan who came to them to commit seppuku. In this story, the samurai is very young and says he wishes to die with honor by his own hand, but when it comes down to it he is afraid. He loses confidence in his decision and changes his mind; he tries to bargain for more time with his retainers. I cannot help but feel sad for him, he must have been extremely young when his own master died, and probably did not have much samurai experience. When it comes time for him to go through with the ritual it is revealed that his swords are made of bamboo and are very flimsy. Presumably he has pawned his real swords, and now he must use these implements to disembowel himself. One of the retainers says to him, “A samurai’s blade is his soul.” It is like saying, “You sold your soul.” or “Your soul is weak.” The next several minutes are excruciating to watch as he attempts to disembowel himself, it is so painful and takes so long. It is a really good piece of directing and acting.

I was a bit surprised at the grisly nature of Harakiri, in that the seppuku scene was extremely graphic, especially for a film of that era. I couldn’t help but a laugh a little at the fake blood that went gushing everywhere. It was a bit difficult to take the scene completely seriously, what with the “overkill” and all (no pun intended). However, at the same time, Motome’s drawn-out, agonizing by self-infliction of a flimsy, bamboo sword is absolutely unnerving, to say the least.

Some of the parts of this film seemed more westernized to me, just by the way in which they were styled. For instance, the part where Motome tries to slink out of the compound, where he turns down one hall and is blocked by a wall of guards, so he turns and tries another hall, and then another and another, finding the same inescapable blockade. And then when there is no where left to turn, he finds himself surrounded, boxed in by the guards. I recall having commonly seen that in a lot of western films, and I wonder if it may have inspired the particular scene in this film. And then there is the opening and closing of the film, how it is likened to the beginning and ending of a storybook or epic tale. I’ve seen that countless times in western films, especially for fairytale-based and fantasy films. Its use in this film seemed strange to me.

Like a lot of other jidaigeki films the class has previously watched, the dramatic showdown between Tsugumo and Okodama takes places in a vast, grassy field with the wind howling mercilessly. And one opponent is clad in a light-colored uniform and the other in dark, normally used to indicate “good” versus “evil.” However, in the battle scene in Harakiri, the colors have been reversed, with Tsugumo, the character the audience would more likely consider to be a protagonist of sorts, is garbed in black, while his opponents dons a white uniform. I suppose that it might be symbolic, showing how Tsugumo, having lost everything, is much like a “dead man walking” in his doomed state.

Harakiri

This film is about Harakiri or also known as Seppuku, which is a ritual where samurai commit suicide by cutting their belly open. In the opening they show a samurai’s armor. Then go into the story by telling of a ronin samurai that came to the Iyi house to request space to commit Harakiri. When the lord of the place hears that a samurai has requested this he meets the samurai in person and tells him of a story of an earlier samurai who showed up with the same request. He tells about how this samurai ended up dying by the blades of his bamboo sword. In response Tsugumo did not cringe they continued on. As he sat in the courtyard he named three people to be his second but all three were ill. He then proceeded to tell the story of his life. He had a daughter named Miho and his friend Jinnai had a son named Motome. We find out here that Motome, who was the samurai that came earlier on and died, was connected to Tsugumo. However, his friend committed Harakiri to follow their lord in to the afterworld instead of having Tsugumo do it. After that they lived in poverty for many years. Then Tsugumo arranged the marriage between his daughter and Motome. They had a son Kingo soon after but Miho became sick and so to make money Motome came up with idea to make money. He would go and threaten Harakiri and the lord was suppose to be moved by this but it did not turn out as planned and they returned his body to Tsugumo and Miho. Three days later Miho died. We find out that Tsugumo goes and cuts off the top knots of the men who brought Motome back, these were the same men he had request be his second. After all is revealed, there is a long fight scene between Tsugumo and the rest of the guards. It ends with Tsugumo being shot after he killed few of the other men. The lord of the house then decided that Tsugumo’s death was by Harakiri and the others were by illness. In the end, Tsugumo is able to die with honor and pride while the other’s who imitated honor and prided died with none.

The opening and ending scene were most intriguing. They open and end with the book and the samurai armor. What added to the eeriness and mysteriousness is the smoke they had flowing around the armor. There weren’t as many transitions in this film, although there was the occasional fade to the next scene it was usually a jump from one scene the next. The main props were the swords. The costumes were not at extravagant but you could still see who was wealthy and who wasn’t. The death robes were especially nice. There wasn’t as much music in this film however occasionally you could hear it and it help build up suspense and feel for the scene. There were a lot of mid-way shots and close ups. The close ups were nice since the actors had great facial expressions. You can clearly see what our characters are feeling by just looking at their faces. This film was also worked from a lot of flashbacks to both the story from the lord and that of the ronin samurai. They jumped back and forth between the story’s present and past. The greatest twist was at the end when the lord decided how to explain the death of his men and of Tsugumo. He sees that the person with real honor was Tsugumo and those who didn’t were his own men. The clean up scene at the end was interesting as well. It makes it seem as if none of the deaths ever happened. This film was a slow starter but as it progresses, the story gets more interesting, and exciting.

What was especially interesting to me in Masaki Kobayashi’s “Harakiri” was the use of mid and wide shots in the film, especially during critical points in the film’s plot. Almost every tracking shot, whether it be the setting when Motome was preparing for a meeting with the Clan Elder, the tracking shot from the youngsters to Tsugumo and Jinnai, the tracking shot just before Bennosuke calls for more retainers to surround Tsugumo, etc., seems to set a snare around the characters in question, as Motome must commit suicide in front of the Ii clan or be cut down, or as Tsugumo must deal with the entire Ii clan in telling his story before attempting to fight them off, or during the final fighting scene when Tsugomo must defend himself from attack. It just felt that the castle itself was kind of a trap for all of the characters.

It appears that close-up shots, specifically close-ups shot from below the subject more often than not, are used not only to create the tension of the moment, but stress the unfairness of the culture in which the characters live, such as when Motome is attempting to disembowel himself, or the rattling shots of the Ii ancestral armor in the first minute of the movie. An interesting example of this is when the Ii retainers had brought back Motome’s body to his family, and while the retainers are extolling the virtues of the samurai, a close-up of Kingo is featured, a towel drapped on his sick forehead. I thought it was a particularly effective use of the cruel jidaegeki theme of trapping innocents in unfair and morally indistinguishable circumstances. This play on the normal practice of close-up shots during moments of tension worked well, as the standard close-up shots were easily distinguishable from the ones that served to stress the key moments of “unfairness” in the movie. The shots of the Ii house records are definitively in the latter category, although the meaning behind these close-ups is sheltered until the very end.

Kobayashi’s Harakiri is the movie I have been waiting for. I loved many elements in it, and I can see inspiration from it in current martial arts pieces, like Kill Bill, and Hero. Initially after seeing the film, I felt that there is a double meaning to its title, Harakiri; the significance of final act of Hanshiro proceeding with Harakiri, and the way in which his mentality was cut open by the ignorance of Motome and of the presumptions of Lord Lyi.
The way the plot developed really struck me as embellishing. I like the construction of a story which insinuates upon the experiences of a particular character’s tale within. I think it is a really clever way of developing plot and furthering the significance of decisions within a piece. I felt that the editing of Harakiri really enhanced this element’s fluidity, along with the soundtrack. The music in this piece is something which really presented itself in a powerful manner. The simplicity of it really enhanced the elements of suspense, action, and mystery in what is to come. The dark and brooding feel of the music suggests upon the art revolutions of the 1960’s, and I like the way it twangs my senses intune to the energy of the film’s visual composition.
Harakiri has some amazing visual fluidity to it, through the composition of performers and set, and through the cinematography of the filming. There is this really amazing scene in the story Hanshiro is telling, where members of his village are banded together, running opposite to the slow panning of the camera’s movement to the left. The quickness of the performers’ movement, as well as its abruptness in characteristic, presents a very stimulating display of action similarly to slowly looking up a fast moving stream or river. This aesthetic is what caught my retention of the shot.
The scenes with Hanshiro and his encounters with Omodaka also resounded to my liking,. As Omodaka enters Hanshiro’s dwelling, there is this magnificent shadow pattern cast upon Hanshiro. It has a very pleasing geometric alignment to it, almost putting each little element of the shot in its twisted place. On the way to the fight with Omodaka, the two pass through this beautifully collected graveyard. The camera’s angle on the two from above really accentuates the massive amount of death that has passed within the story’s paradigm through its imagery of the many grave stones. As the two continue forward, the wind blowing brings an extraordinary energy and life to the physicality beyond the two characters. The trees and grass come alive and promote the coming actions between the two contenders.

Harakiri, like Kurosawa’s Rashomon, is composed in large part of flashbacks. Two principle characters present stories that happened in the past. One thing that set Harakiri apart from the other films we’ve watched thus far was that the violence was quite a bit more graphic. The first seppuku scene especially shows this, with Motome impaling himself on a bamboo sword.

The narrative as a whole is an interesting twist on the Chushingura story and Confucian ideals of filial piety and the duty to seek revenge. Rather than featuring a son or retainer seeking revenge for the unjust death of his father or lord, Hanshiro seeks revenge for the sadistic behavior the retainers of the clan exhibited towards his son in law.

There were several scenes in this film that struck me. First, the opening of the film definitely conveys a sense of foreboding. There is a suit of armor displayed in the center of the shot, with nothing except empty walls around it. Ominous sounding music is playing, and the camera scrolls up and down and zooms in on the armor, which at some points has smoke around it. Through all of this the lighting is changing from light to dark and back again.

Another shot that I remember was at one point during Hanshiro’s narrative in the garden. The clan’s headman had just been threatening Hanshiro, and there were several men holding spears behind him. Hanshiro was standing at the time, and the camera appeared to be around Hanshiro’s waist height, giving him an appearance of towering over the spear-wielding guards behind him. This, combined with the fact that Hanshiro addressed the spearmen behind him without even turning to face them and that he seemed to speak with a voice of authority, gave him a very powerful presence in this shot.

Throughout the film, Hanshiro’s face seemed very stony and rigid except during the flashbacks. This, I think, was a key feature of his character. It was shown in multiple close-up shots of his face and provided a sharp contrast to his appearance when he was playing with his grandson or other happy times in the past. The ‘dead’ appearance of his face seemed to be to look especially out of place and shocking during the final fight scene in the mansion. There was one particular shot close to the beginning of the fight where he was right in front of a wall with enemies on both sides. He ended up cutting one of them, and we see a fairly close shot of both of their faces. While Hanshiro was almost nose-to-nose with someone he had just cut, his face still remained completely impassive as it had been throughout most of the film.

In Masaki Kobayashi’s film Harakiri, what starts out seeming like a very simple story becomes very complex after the addition of new information. The pace and exposition create a lot of suspense as the viewers realize that the story is more complex than it at first seemed. Harakiri is a very subversive movie with an antiauthoritarian theme. It shows the role of ideologies such as Bushido in crafting a subjectivity that will work to uphold the established order. This is counter to many mainstream jidaigeki, which glorify Bushido and the samurai class. This Bushido ideology is still present in Japanese society today and was used to a great extent by the Japanese government during the war in the pacific to explain that they had the right to rule others due to their warrior spirit, honor, etc. This type of ideology is a key aspect of Japanese right-wing thinking even at present. Bushido is a repressive ideology. According to Marx, repressive ideologies such as Bushido are most effective when they are able to convince people that they are not ideologies at all, that they are in fact natural ways of viewing the world. For example: we can't question why samurai have a higher rank in society because everyone knows it is because samurai obey the warrior code and are thus “better” than anyone who doesn't. The power of the ideology is that it is able to get people to accept domination without having to go to the trouble to use force. However, force may still be required if people are not convinced by the ideology; since Tsugumo has no respect for Bushido and views it as fraudulent, the Ii clan must resort to outright violent repression in order to get what they want from him. The sword and the Ii clan armor are both symbols of Bushido; Tsugumo's last act before he is gunned down is to destroy the Ii clan's red armor in order to show the corruption of Bushido. When the Ii clan retainers decide to cover up the events in order to preserver the Ii clan's honor, it is made explicitly clear that Bushido is meaningless and is merely a tool of oppression used by the ruling elite to justify their rule. It is also ironic that in the end the samurai resort to using firearms to kill Tsugumo when throughout the movie they had praised the value of the sword, calling it “the heart of the samurai.”

I thought this particular movie was rather slow, merely because it was very much based on the dialog throughout the movie, and less on the action that I would normally expect in a jidaigeki. On top of that, it was dialog and conversation based entirely on a cultural concept that those of us in the west might have difficult understanding fully. I can understand and even respect, to an extent, why a samurai would feel the need to commit ritual suicide, but I don't think I'll ever understand it in the way that someone raised in Japan, especially in that time, would be able to.
Regardless of whether or not I can understand the reasons behind it, one particular scene did stand out to me, more so than any others. I liked the abrupt change in angle right after the second told the first harakiri guy that he would be using his own swords to kill himself. It illustrated his shock very well, and I think it was very effective in getting across the fact that the guy knew what that statement meant. He was, of course, referencing the conversation they'd had over his swords earlier, about how they were really dull, made of bamboo, and how they couldn't cut anything. I think it was indicitive of both the man's realization that he'd been trapped into an incredibly painful death, as well as the fact that those whom were overlooking the ritual knew, and because they disapproved of him, were letting him die horribly anyway. But I did not like the scene where he tried to kill himself with that blade. It was a little too much for me.
I also found it interesting that the two men who were committing harakiri were so opposite. Specifically, I liked the contrast in their clothing; the 'shameful' samurai who was given pure white robes for the ritual was a very distinct contrast to the 'respectable and admirable' samurai who wore all black.

Harakiri was definitely a very intense film. It had my attention throughout
the entire screening! There were many awesome shots and techniques used
throughout the film. One of the most gruesome scenes was when Motome
Chijiiwa was committing harakiri. His blade was made out of bamboo, and as
said in the movie could barely cut a radish. It took him a considerable
amount of time to cut open his belly, and by the time he had done it fully
he had died before the executioner could even raise his sword.
I also liked how the movie went into flashbacks, which was the first time
that we have seen that in a film so far. The flashbacks take place between
the harakiri of Hanshiro Tsugumo, and the story of Motame Chijiiwa.
One of my favorite techniques was at the beginning of the film. You see
feet walking along, the camera slowly moves up to about the height of the
knee. Then, the person walking turns a corner and in the distance you can
see a person kneeling in a room as you following the person walking into
the room. I thought this was an interesting use of the camera.
I also liked the use of music throughout the film. There would be a sudden
outburst of music with a short drum beat at the end with a close up on a
face, then sudden silence would proceed. There were also many occasions
where you would hear a noise, or a drum beat, but wouldn’t know the
source of it.

The storyline of Harakiri is riveting and tense. The film as a whole is able to rely on the story itself and not fancy camera work. There are a limited number of distanced the camera works at, usually mid-range, only using closer shots to increase tension or focus on the despair of the character. The music is also similarly kept to a minimum, used to punctuate tension to startling degrees.
This film does an excellent job of portraying anguish, both physical and emotional. Through good acting and good screenplay, our thoughts are strung about directly where they are supposed to be. We not only see, but feel the unjustness of the Samurai of Lyi, the righteousness of Tsugumo, and the pain of Miho and Chijiwa. Slowly and surely, Tsugumo reveals the irony of the Samurai code, constantly pounding in one point after another, 'til the climax when he reveals the severed topknots – an equivalent to having brought their heads.The ultimate irony being that the three Samurai he defeated did not then immediately harakiri themselves, but instead feigned illness to grow them back and cover up their humiliating losses, to thus protect their lives instead.
The story regards the purity of Samurai code – of the lack thereof. There is a reversal of roles between the two types of people: the employed Samurai cling to symbols of their status, and act maliciously while calling their actions honorable. The ronin are truly the good guys who, through having to struggle in daily life for basic necessities, are able to act humanely. The ones who are honorable are actually the ronin, and not the Samurai.
What I did think was a little curious was that when Tsugumo explains that Chijiwa, while he was tying to con them, really only wanted a boon in order to tell Tsugumo to take care to Miho and Kingo, after which he would have honorably returned to carry out his duty and preform harakiri. Tsugumo chides them for not considering the position of their victims. I thought is strange that the advocation he makes on part of the ronin makes it seem like the ronin should be entitled to their con trick because of their poverty, and the most honorable thing for the Samurai to do would be to pay everyone of those poor deserving souls off.

Harakiri was a very moving Jidaigeki film. It focused more on the story and the message of Hanshiro Tsugumo. Most of the movie takes place in the past, giving the story of the noble ex-warrior and how it came about that he made a visit to the house of Iyi. After Tsugumo's clan and lord was closed and disposed of, he became a struggling peasant with barely any means to survive. It was Hanshiro's message that the upper authorities and those who were rich did not care about those in poverty, and only cared about upholding their name. The three swordsman who Hanshiro cut the topknots off of, were too embarrassed to show themselves in public because of the humility and dishonor. Also, after the whole battle at the end inside the house of Iyi, the clan leader tells his men to lie about what happened so their reputation would stay high. The class difference is touched on when the clan thinks Hanshiro and Chijiwa are just extortionists because they are poor. Another message I saw was that family was more important than anything else. To Hanshiro, money, wealth, or fame was not merely as important than his family of Miho, Chijiwa, and Kingo, all of which who ultimately die in the film. He gave up everything he had to care for his family and would do anything for their good health. Although, to a samurai, his sword is his soul.

The opening of the film is different from those of previous films we watched, with a symbolic intro of the devilish warrior. I'm not quite sure what it symbolized, maybe the devilish antics of the Tokugawa policy. During the opening credits there are many different camera shots and angles used shooting in different buildings and sets. The sets themselves seemed very full and deep, with a lot of panning shots to show the fullness. There are a few long take shots, one after Tsugumo argues with the house of Iyi clan leader, there is a very long take crane shot of Tsugumo in the middle of the room. Close ups were mostly during discussions and to show a characters strong face emotion. I also noticed a lot of shots of trees, especially in the first half of the movie, painted on the walls, silhouetted through the walls as shadows, and even real trees outside, although I'm not sure of the significance. A lot of the shots inside are framed with all of the lines and geometry within the homes. I also noticed that one of the big battle scenes was in a vast open field with high grass and high winds, also like a previous film we watched.

Harakiri was such a beautiful film with a shocking and clever plot that when describing it to some people this week, my enthusiasm for it made it sound something other than a sad film about suicide, and more like an exciting adventure story. I also thought the actors did a great job of conveying the emotions and silent exchanges that went on throughout the film.

The plot advanced at varying speeds. In some cases seeming to be really slow in order to focus on certain elements (Chijiiwa’s slow and painful suicide or prolonging Tsugumo’s tale), but sped up at other times (Tsugumo’s fight at the end or Chijiiwa’s quick advancement toward the forced seppuku). There were many minor climaxes throughout the film. First the recounted story of Chijiiwa had to be told, then Tsugumo’s ‘life story’, and finally the current story of the characters playing out before the screen. While most of the transitions between the present in the film to the stories being told are done with regular transitions, to begin the two stories, Kobayashi made sure to break the two up with more obvious transitions. The first zeroed in on a hand writing the day’s events on a parchment, kind of like the Western equivalent of flipping through a page in a book before telling the tale therein. The introduction to Tsugumo’s story begins in the same way, with a hand writing on a parchment before zooming out to show Chijiiwa and Miho.

At the beginning and end of the film, a lot of focus was placed on the empty samurai armour. It is first focused in upon accompanied by unnerving music suggesting the evil and underhand circumstances about to come. At the end the camera goes back to focusing on this object as a way of reminding the viewers that all of the events that happened between those two views of the armour contribute to its substance. Behind the shell lurks an evil unknown on the surface to the modern viewers looking back and idealizing bushido and its country’s esteemed warriors. This slow moving zoom in, zoom out on the statue and prolonged exposure gave time to consider its meaning and significance.

The story of Harakiri (or Seppuku) begins with a man entreating permission to commit ritual suicide. Before he is granted such permission, however, the lord from whom he is asking this permission recounts a recent episode that had happened at the house. A man named Chijiwa came and had asked to similarly perform seppuku. His bluff, however, is called, and he is forced to perform the act with his bamboo blade, making the experience incredibly painful for him. Tsugumu, the man from the beginning, assures Lord Kageyo that he is fully prepared to die. So his wish is accepted. But the three men he had requested to be his “second,” or finisher, were all that day at home, sick. So to pass the time—and to forestall his suicide for a moment—he gives his life story. According to his story, the shogunate toppled his lord’s house, which prompted his friend to commit suicide, leaving Tsugumu as the adopted father of the friend’s son, Chijiwa, while already the father of his daughter Miho. Because of these responsibilities, he knows he cannot perform ritual suicide, so he is forced to live in poverty. When they grew up, Chijiwa and Miho got married and birthed a child. But when Miho and the child got sick, and the family was too poor to afford medicine or a visit to the doctor, Chijiwa came up with the seppuku plot, whereupon, as already known, he was forced to go through with it. Afterwards, both Miho and the child die of their disease. Before he came to Kageyo’s house, Tsugumu disgraced the three retainers he would ask for by cutting off their topknots, prompting them to stay home “sick” on the day that he would ask permission to commit seppuku. Once his story is done, Tsugumu fights off the retainers. But when more come with guns, he commits ritual suicide.
The movie showed a sort of hypocrisy of “honor-bound samurai.” Samurai would both cheat (or try to cheat) the system to work it in their favor (as in the case of Chijiwa), and, as with Kageyo, they would manipulate the idea of “honor” so as to avoid disgracing the house in general—as Kageyo orders the three retainers to also commit seppuku. It does away with the romanticized version of samurai reality typically presented by showing a darker, more corrupt side of it.
What I found most impressive was the acting. The scenes in which Tsugumu and Kageyo converse simply radiated a ubiquitous and mounting tension, but not with music or even very clever writing. The speech was slow and deliberate, requiring acting on the part of even the character, not just the actor. The slow pace might be tedious to some, but I found it, at least in those scenes, very nerve-wracking. For instance, when Tsugumu asks for the third retainer, after having been told twice already that the former two requested retainers were out sick, a close-up shot of Kageyo shows him twitch before responding, with a suddenly concerned face.
Also impressive was the use of flashbacks. This film isn’t terribly old, nor was it by any means the first to implement the use of flashbacks as a narrative device. But the film’s use of it helped keep the story suspenseful and also interesting. Few other films we have watched (if any, as at the moment I cannot recall an instance) utilize the flashback technique. Specifically impressive was its parallel flashbacks to two separate, but ultimately intersecting, stories. It sets itself up almost as a series of vignettes, if not for Tsugumu’s mentioning his “slight acquaintance” with Chijiwa. In general, these flashbacks just made it much more enthralling a story.

Harakiri was a very somber movie. The introduction to the movie was very unique but it made you feel uneasy due to the music. The music actually played a very dramatic role in Harakiri. Sometimes there would be quick pangs of music during certain dramatic events. I thought that was a good idea. The music in general was very serious and unhappy sounding. The first half hour or so of the movie was very unsettling. It was just gross when Chijiiwa stabbed himself with a bamboo sword. The fact that he couldn’t escape made me feel very uncomfortable. This movie contained lots of men and lots of dialogue which I didn’t exactly enjoy. It was a very serious movie and watching Kingo and Miho die was very sad. I don’t know how I feel exactly about all the flashbacks. I guess it distracts you from the point that the movie takes place in the same spot almost the entire time. I think this is the first movie we watched that used flashbacks so predominantly. I think emotion was conveyed well in this movie. This is partly due to the camera techniques. There were some angled shots which I thought were interesting, and there were close ups on faces (Chijiiwa and Tsugumo) when they were in pain. There was a noticeably quick zoom in the Iyi clan guys face too. I think the man in the beginning who kept snapping his fan added to the tenseness of the scene. Although, I’m not exactly sure why he kept snapping his fan. Also, Tsugumo’s deranged laugh was a nice touch. It just made you feel uncomfortable. The fight on the hills with the wind was very similar to Sugata Sanshiro, but it was still enjoyable. Despite this movie being a bit unexciting, it really picked up in the end and I really enjoyed the ending especially the battle! I thought it was so cool when Tsugumo broke the armor of the ancestors! Overall, I didn’t enjoy the movie too much, but some parts were interesting.

Harakiri

The best part of this movie was by far the wonderful narrative. It was an interesting exploration of bushido and people’s actions in bad circumstances. In the beginning it looked like Chijiiwa, the original samurai to travel to the Li mansion, was nothing more than a disgrace to the samurai class. However, as time goes on and Tsugumo, the father in law of Chijiiwa, arrives at the Li mansion, we start to see the first samurai in a different light. Through various flashbacks (which don’t hinder the flow of the film at all) we begin to understand the past of the first samurai and what led him in his attempt to con the Li clan. Members of the Li clan are unsympathetic to Chijiiwa’s position, and make the ridiculous assertion that people make, even in the 21st century, that they know exactly how they would act in anyone else’s position, and do not even attempt to actually understand the pain of people below them in economic situations. It’s easy to spew hate at people when you are sitting on your throne. Anyway, Tsugumo reveals that he has defeated the clan’s most valued swordsmen, suggesting they are not as valuable and important of people as they project. This is only hammered in as the truth when the clan spokesman has it written into the books that all the men who Tsugumo killed died from illness and Tsugumo just went through with seppuku. This final act proved that their honor and ability was all superficial. The ideas they claim to hold really don’t mean all that much. All it does is give them a sense of pride and honor that they don’t deserve. An interesting metaphor for the failings of bushido is the swordsmanship of the final samurai Tsugumo defeats. People say he is great, he thinks he’s great, but really the moves he learned don’t reflect how people act in the real world at all, and when forced to fight they only let him down.

The music in this movie was amazing. It was fairly simple and yet helped create this wonderful dark, tense atmosphere. There were many long and medium shots. There was a point during Chijiiwa’s seppuku where the camera began to spin and zoom in on Chijiiwara. It really captured the insanity, inability to escape from, and the hopelessness of his situation. There were some other shots where either Chijiiwara or Tsugumo would be the center of a high shot, enclosed on all sides by people, walls, roofs, darkness, etc. These shots also helped convey the trapped feelings of both of the samurai. The costumes and set design were all great as well. The makeup and special effects of this film are also noteworthy, at least in comparison with the films we watched previous.

Watching this was a very moving experience for me.

Harakiri
Right away in the beginning of the film, it seemed weird or tense; the music was fierce and active but visually was quiet and calm. And in the first scene the audience is shown a slow-paced, tense atmosphere. The use of the moving camera was used beautifully in this film. I was particularly struck when the servant and Hanshiro Tsugumo walk down the hall and the camera slowly follows them at an angle close to the ground. It is rather unique but also awkward; it creates an illusion that the surroundings are taller and bigger than what they really are and in result creates a feeling that imposes the idea of inferiority. Once again you get the same effect when Tsugumo’s son-in-law, Motome Chijiiwa walks towards his corner to commit hara-kiri. The camera is placed below the waist and very slowly moves in the same direction as the actor.
I really enjoyed the story within a story where we see the flashback of Tsugumo’s son-in-law, Motome Chijiiwa. He thinks he will meet the Hon and finds out that he has been tricked; he is forced to commit suicide. He is terrified and at one point he is completely surrounded, backed into a wall and the camera focuses on a close-up shot of his face.
When it comes to his hara-kiri and he witness the bamboo sword meant for his hara-kiri, the camera closes in on his face, and then abruptly and obviously changes to another frame of his face. They are both tilted frames and create an eerie feeling which leads to the excruciating act of his suicide.
When it is Tsugumo’s time to commit suicide is called out as a liar, he never wanted to commit suicide to begin with. He is then surrounded by all the Hon retainers. This was a cool framing effect in an area that is already framed.
I also noticed that many of the characters sound similar in that their voices were low and deep, slightly raspy, and always serious. I felt this also added to the feeling of tension. The music felt rather dramatic perhaps a little over exaggerated but none-the-less it created an atmosphere fitting for each scene.

Harakiri (Seppuku) was a very interesting film. Although it was kind of slow paced, it grabbed my attention with the opening scene and held onto it throughout the entire film with the various twists in the storyline. At the beginning of the film, we see a samurai’s suit of armor that is surrounded by a strange mist with suspenseful music playing. This scene gives a sense of tension and anxiety until the darkness and mist surrounding the armor fades away to be replaced by a room. The narrator states the day, the time and the weather, making it sound like an ordinary day until a ronin shows up at the gate.

The film was captivating in that it slowly reveals the seemingly honorable and moral house of samurai to be anything but. At first, it just seemed like the Iyi house was trying to teach petty criminals a lesson (albeit in a cruel manner), but as Tsugumu slowly reveals his knowledge about Chijiiwa and his motives for threatening harakiri it brings to light that he was unjustly punished by being sentenced to harakiri. Even though Tsugumu reveals Chijiiwa’s intentions were good, the Iyi house refuses to admit any wrongdoing on their part. Any chance of redeeming qualities is shattered when Tsugumu proves them to be hypocrites with the severed topknots of the three samurai who claimed to be too “ill” to come as well as the entire house attacking Tsugumu (and eventually resorting to gunfire). By the end, the true natures of Tsugumu, who keeps his word about committing harakiri and striking down anyone who would attack him, and the Iyi house, which covers up the whole incident, are revealed.

Another aspect of the film I thought was interesting was the issue of a man’s sword being a measure of his soul. When it was first known that Chijiiwa’s blade was made of bamboo, the viewer was to be under the impression that he had a weak and flimsy soul. However, as was later discovered, Chijiiwa had pawned his blades so that he could provide for his family versus cling to a tradition that no longer brought them any support. The fact that he was forced to commit a proper harakiri with the bamboo blade also provides a contradiction to the sword being equal to the soul for the samurai of the Iyi house. Although they all had nice swords, they sentenced someone to a horrible death without a second thought.

The film Hara-kiri is a story that explains one of the famous traditions of samurai ritual suicide. However, instead of depicting hara-kiri in a fair light, the film instead exploits the act as a means for disgraced lower-ranking officials to become more “honorable” in the eyes of higher-ranking officials. In this case, suicide was seen as being more honorable in the eyes of a higher power than committing good acts. This is shown through the movie’s cinematography: as it shows the gruesome act, and how the main character, Hanshiro, defends himself as a person.
An interesting scene in the film was the flashback when Motome commits seppuku with a bamboo sword. Throughout the film, a bamboo sword is described as a weapon of a disgraced samurai. In this case, Motome pretended to not be disgraced and was therefore forced to commit hara-kiri with his bamboo sword. This scene is graphic; as you see Motome in obvious pain stabbing himself with the blood spattering all over the tatami mat. In fact, I believe this may be the most gruesome scene we have witnessed thsufar in any move. This scene is important, as it shows how the samurai should know their place instead of trying to lie to the higher lord. However, it is also ironic, as while watching you do feel bad for what Motome has to do, and feel that he does not deserve the treatment.
Another striking scene occurs at the end of the film when Hanshiro takes on the feudal lords with his own sword. Then, a new group of lords arrives with guns, and Hanshiro tries to commit Hara=kiri before getting shot, but both happen at around the same time and he is still shot. This is an interesting scene as Hanshiro has no problem killing the lords with swords but once he sees the guns he decides to end it, as he finds it more honorable to die by sword than by gun. Maybe this is the film’s way of preserving samurai honor even in the face of modernism.
In the end, Hanshiro still is the hero, as he has humiliated the lord’s house. This film was an interesting one to watch, and I feel it was one of the most intense movie’s we watched next to 47 Ronin. I feel it was also one of the most realistic; especially in it’s themes and the acting. The film takes a controversial topic and explains it in the director’s eyes.

What a tense, haunting film. The camera work is slow and delicate, almost to the point of boredom. The music is active yet subdued—it has the feeling of bubbling up. In fact, the whole film has that feeling of a boiling kettle as it reaches its climax.

The camera movement often placed itself just over the characters’ shoulders, and then drew in or out to reveal the context of the scene. With this structural cinematographic formula, Harakiri presents its characters not as people, but as mythic beings. While this may somewhat relate to the idea of monumental filmmaking, perhaps there is something else to be gleaned in Motome’s forced suicide.

Motome Chijiwa commits hara-kiri with a bamboo sword and it is shown completely upon the screen. Every last excruciating stab and drag is caught on film, Motome’s expressions of anguish and suffering all the more apparent as the camera shifts awkwardly between angles of the same face. Motome’s suffering is brutal and perhaps contradictory to the emphasis on mythic structure—after all, a perfect state cannot allow itself to show such brutality. Harakiri is about that brutality, how every state will hide that brutality in order to put on an air of perfection.

Harakiri builds up to Tsugumo’s time to commit suicide to make it seem inevitable one way or another. Tsugumo did not come to commit suicide; he merely wished to exposed the finest statesmen as frauds and hypocrites. The real samurai do not live at the top of the structure, they may not even exist at all. Tsugumo attempts to reclaim the samurai’s honor with his heroic dash at the end of the movie. He kills some, wounds many others, and destroys the castle’s ancestor, knowing the past of the state is nothing but a perfect lie.

Tsugumo is however gunned down in the final scenes. It is ironic for someone who lived by the sword to be gunned down, a sign of the unfair strength of the state. For Tsugumo, a samurai who saw the depths of poverty and sadness, the only fair thing to do is to strike back. Tsugumo’s strikes are meaningless; the state covers it up and all goes on regardless.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Anderson published on April 1, 2010 11:32 AM.

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