Rod Sedgwick’s review published on Letterboxd:
''Swordsmanship untested in battle is like the art of swimming mastered on land.''
Oh Masaki Kobayashi, where have you been all my life? You serve up your art on a golden platter and it takes me 50 years to indulge! (I am not 50 but this film is) Shame on me. If my hyperbole isn't enough to convince anyone and everyone to see this film, then indulge me some more...
While Kurosawa and Ozu might be film-buff household names, Kobayashi seems over-looked and should be uttered in the same regard; a bold Japanese auteur that fought for his vision and delivered at least four highly regarded works in Harakiri, Kwaidan, Samurai Rebellion and the immense nine + hour The Human Condition. An Interesting point to note is Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto wrote the screenplay for 'Harakiri', he also wrote the majority of Kurosawa's work including Seven Samurai, Ikiru and the similarly styled Rashomon.
1962's Harakiri (or Seppuku) is a Japanese jidai-geki film set in the 1630 Edo period where Ronin (masterless Samurai) roam the land in search of honest or not so honest ways to provide for their families. The plot sees one such Ronin arrive at a feudal Lords home, requesting to use his courtyard to perform the Seppuku ritual, he is then told the story of a previous Ronin that had not long before requested the same. From here Kobayashi brilliantly executes a narrative structure that uses flashbacks and reverse chronology to unfold both timelines and to see this device in action is simply majestic. The uses of confined space and the way the camera glides and manipulates it proves the mastery of cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima, every detail is captured with precision and every movement is purposeful and when he gets to move the camera outdoors and open things up - every frame just feels so elegantly staged, a better example of cinematography you will surely not see.
There is pure Shakesperean tragedy at the heart of this film, and you will feel the heartbreak as plot points come to light carried on the shoulders of the mighty talent (to rival Kurosawa's muse in Toshiro Mifune) Tatsuya Nakadai executing a three pronged performance that moves from stoic to family-man to vengeful throughout the course of the film. A centerpiece scene that comes early in the film involves an incident with bamboo that will test even the strongest of resolves and proves absolutely neccesary to the audience connecting with the film despite censors pleading it's removal.
Harakiri is the ultimate 'anti-samurai' film, one that sees Tsugumo stand up to the vaunted code of samurai honour telling Saito that it is ''Nothing but a façade''. The film's moral themes are rich and complex and through its delivery of striking black and white visuals, its unnerving and experimental Biwa score and it's pure dramatic tension, Harakiri is as deserving of the 'Masterpiece' status as any film ever made. I watched this film twice in one week due to the spell it had over me and it has easily shifted into my 'Top 20 favourite films of all-time'.