This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
mariadees’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Hanshiro Tsugumo: ...who can fathom the depths of another man's heart? thanks to the shogunate's ruthless policy of wiping out the provincial lords, countless Samurai lost their Masters, and were cast out to wander the depths of hell. How can those who never wanted for food or clothing understand their misery? To those who find Motome loathsome for his pleading, I ask: what if you found yourself in the same position? would you do any differently? After all, this thing we call Samurai honor is ultimately nothing but a facade.
Harakiri is brilliantly directed by Masaki Kobayashi, it even won the Cannes Jury Prize back in 1963. It is set in-between 1619 and 1630 during Japan's Edo period and the rule of the Tokugawa shogunate. At the very beginning we meet our main character Hanshiro Tsugumo (incredibly played by Tatsuya Nakadai) who arrives at the home of the Li Clan, and asks to perform Harakiri. Suddenly we are on this spiderweb of information and storytelling that is just so well done, it kept me engaged for the 2hr+ runtime.
There is a lot of political jargon that is stated during this, but the big takeaway is that during this period of Japan's history, it was a time of peace. There were no wars going on, so there was no need for Masters and for their Samurai soldiers. Masters ended up being banished from their lavish homes and Samurai had to go and try to find whatever job they could to survive. Unfortunately, there was a class system dispute... Rōnin (masterless Samurai) were not allowed to work in lower level jobs such as construction, yet the dissolve of their previous work made them unable to work in that too. This became a big problem as former Samurai could not afford the simplest of things like eating. Many Rōnin went to different clan estates to ask to perform Harakiri, which is the act of gutting yourself in a sort of ritual ceremony, this is awarded to former Samurai as a sign of respect and to have them be sent to their afterlives happily. Instead, what started happening was people would abuse this and opt out and ask for money instead, suddenly these clans that were helping them were getting into serious debt. So, that is what Hanshiro wanted to do and watching him explain why, in-between flashbacks was just heartbreaking. This is a smart man, knows exactly why he is there, knows exactly what the outcome is going to be, and as it goes along, we find he is the just the most empathetic and incredible human being, yet there is so much damage done to him... it just goes to show you how life is unfair. Hanshiro's adversary in the film Saitō Kageyu (Rentarō Mikuni) even states to him: "This world does not bend to sentimental tales."
This film has a lot to say and I really admire the way Kobayashi pieced all of this information together. It really is masterful filmmaking. It is also pretty slow moving... there is not much swordplay but that is what I love about it. It spends more time on character moments than action and I felt like I understood each character, including the one's with smaller roles like Hanshiro's daughter Miho (Shima Iwashita) and a mysterious some one that we meet at the beginning Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama). There was some great cinematography and the music moments were small but always hit at the right time. I could keep going on about how much I loved this but really, when removing a top knot from someone is the most major power play, this instantly became a favorite.