Harakiri ★★★★½

I realize that I might lose my film badge for not giving this five stars but that's okay. Hara-kiri is an amazing film, it simply didn't sit with me until the latter half. It is in that final hour that the slowly waxed narrative of the first becomes truly relevatory, resulting in one of the best "gotcha!" moments in history as Hanshiro Tsugumo throws the topknots onto the ground and delivers a crass admonishment of the supposed honor of the Iyi clan.

Through the flashbacks we see narrated by Tsugumo and the clan counselor's own recollection of Tsugumo's son-in-law's botched hara-kiri ritual, we learn much about the illusion of peacetime and samurai code in Japan. The consequences of uncaring political policy result in poverty and despair in the scores of ronin now left wandering the lands, leading many to desire suicide as a means to save what little dignity and honor they have left. The Iyi clan's craven disregard of Tsugumo's relative's wishes during his own ceremony shatter any aura of dignified departure that they may have expected.

It's an unfolding lesson that isn't always the easiest to watch but comes together expertly at the end. The stoic performances and excellent art direction are among the best of the black-and-white jidaigeki, and I know that I always say this but this is truly some of the most beautiful, haunting B&W photography that I've ever seen in a Japanese film. The swordplay near the film's conclusion leaves a bit to be desired, however, but not everything can be perfect, right? Hara-kiri is as close as it gets, however, and though I have little desire to see it again, there is no questioning this film's brilliance and the mark it had made on cinema.