Harakiri ★★★★★

Afterthoughts: At last, I am initiated!

My long-awaited first encounter with Japanese master filmmaker, Masaki Kobayashi, occurred today, and I couldn’t be more pleased about it.

Harakiri is a total masterclass in tactical storytelling, both from a writing point of view and a filmic one. Shinobu Hashimoto’s adaptation of Yasuhiko Takiguchi’s novel is concise, enthralling and bold in its structural elements, and so too are the decisions of Kobayashi from behind the camera.

Tatsuya Nakadai, one of world cinema’s greatest stars, is an actor I fell in love with instantly when I first saw him in Ran a couple of years ago, but more recently in Hiroshi Teshigahara’s masterpiece, The Face of Another. Here in Harakiri he commands the screen with such power, and I’d argue it’s one of the greatest performances I’ve seen in a Japanese film thus far. [And my god, is Nakadai a fine specimen of a man – beautiful!].

[Slight spoilers in next paragraph, I guess]

Harakiri really strikes me as an absolute game-changer for movie violence – it’s surprisingly bloody. The events of the film’s climax are so impeccably well-choreographed, photographed and edited; I’ve never known an action sequence as suspenseful as this. The cutting is viscous, yet controls the changes in tempo of the fight in such a satisfying and gripping manner. I don’t remember ever feeling as emotionally invested in a character’s perilous situation as much as this; I felt like I was genuinely there with Hanshiro (Nakadai), forced to observe as a helpless bystander, longing to jump in to the aid of one man fighting against the odds.

On a thematic level, it's an excellent exploration of how men of war (especially in Japanese culture in which the notion of honour is [or at least, was] taken very seriously) struggle to find purpose and meaning in times of peace. Fighting is all they know, so what the hell do they do when war is over? These men of honour and principle find it excrutiatingly difficult to adapt to their new world and the roles of redundancy they assume - and for many it is too much to bear.

Kobayashi’s brilliant film is still sinking in, but I’m extremely anxious now to get cracking on his Human Condition trilogy. As predicted, it's love at first sight.

One of the all-time greats for sure!

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