Double_Dubs’s review published on Letterboxd:
The foremost aspect of Kobayashi's Harakiri to floor me was the cinematography. All I thought when I first watched this film was, "Did this Japanese dude know of Kubrick?" Kobayashi's unique style had developed into one that effortlessly included both the calculated suspense and depth of Kubrickian camerawork, as we witness in his sage-like exhibition of wide-shot compositions, one-point perspective framing, and persistent usage of dollies and zooms. What is then astounding is how that style is synthesized with an idiosyncratic traditional Japanese-like framing and mise-en-scène, including beautiful slide door paintings, that belong to the same vein of directors like Mizoguchi.
I then became ardently convinced that Kobayashi sold his soul to the same deity of nature that Tarkovsky did. The reason being that both of these men seem to be able to order nature to cue sweeping winds of grandeur whenever they want it in their shot. There's one particular duel scene that is completely situated with this tumult and it is glorious to watch. I'm also completely jealous of Kobayashi because as a director as it seems like the guy can shoot anything! He can nail menacing horror, fast-paced action, slow-paced contemplation, and some shots that even look like they were taken straight out of an epic, which is unexpected for the filmmaker that made The Human Condition trilogy (which, since I'm a doofus, I have not seen).
Technique aside, let's get into the meat of this film. Harakiri is an extraordinary take-down of tradition, symbols, and pedantic-to-the-point-of-coercive cultural systems that have overstayed their welcome in being fit for the human beings that have adopted, or rather inherited, them. The film's narrative is structured in flashbacks. It's done in a way where we're given a brutal story of what appears to be the abuse of an extortioning beggar and only later are we shown the real faces of the men behind the stories. It's terrifying when we learn that they, "they" being that we're also shown that beggar's family, belong to human beings with complex emotions that feel, think, and especially suffer. I was riveted by the film's adamant humanization of its focus characters and its intense emphasis on miscommunication leading to tragedy.
(This paragraph contains delicious delicious spoilers)
One of my favorite moments in this film, and one that I believe delves straight into the core of the film, is when we see Hanshiro, the father of the "beggar", mourning over his son-in-law's corpse. He realizes that Motome, to support his family in dire need, had sold his sword because he wasn't raised with the same idiotic and impractical valuing of the symbolic samurai sword over his family's well-being. Hanshiro breaks down as he realizes this act and he then sees his own sword, intact and kept precious. He angrily dismisses his weapon as nothing but a useless symbol.
(End of spoilers)
We're swept away by the film's devilish intellect. It not only turns the glorified samurai culture topsy-turvy, all while booting its own excellently choreographed and jaw-dropping action scenes that are freaking amazing to watch, but begs for us all to reevaluate the priorities of our lives, especially as the film turns into a study of an abject conspiracy formed by cowardice and hypocrisy, the fallout of the film's vigilante lead that is fronting, what is essentially, a revenge story. The good guys lose. The bad guys lose. Everybody gets screwed. The term "harakiri", such a sanctimonious practice by the samurai elite obsessed with tradition and their own stuck-up myopic sense of pride and honor of days past, is dissected by Kobayashi, sodomized, and disposed of as he reveals its true nature as only another word, a false idol, for people to obsess over.