Harakiri ★★★★★

| "One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind, by day and by night... the fact that he has to die. That is his chief business." |

I was completely blown away by it the first time I saw it, and now, a whole year after I first saw it, I just wanna shout out in joy and declare this as the 5th best film I've ever seen. That's how great it is. I was in complete awe of near every single shot, every single frame and camera angle. The direction, especially in terms of the narrative is nothing but masterful. The use of flashbacks creates an emotional impact so powerful that one could write an entire essay about it.

Harakiri is mainly a gripping court drama where the horrible truth behind a forced suicide (harakiri) is being unfolded through flashbacks. We are allowed to look closer at the noble Samurai code of behavior, and reflect on its abusive impact on the fate of one unlucky individual and society in general (a recurring theme in Kobayashi's films). The story is compelling, poetic, and tragic, and has one of the most pessimistic endings ever, resulting in nothing but death and destruction. It's been called an "anti-samurai" film, and with good reason.

So, over to the -fantastic- cinematography:

Repeatedly in the course of the film Kobayashi returns to the iconic image of Tsugumo, sitting/kneeling upright, with his black robes on a white mat in the centre of the square courtyard. His sword is placed on a stand before him, almost like him standing before an altar. He's surrounded by masses of swords and spears of the Iyi warriors. This is where he tells his story. The framing of this almost painted central image is constantly done to perfection. Every scene, every shot.

Now, around this central image of charged, geometric stillness the action of the film proceeds through visual compositions of intense lyrical beauty, most notably in the duel between Tsugumo and Omodaka, the finest of the Iyi swordsmen. The entire duel is breathtakingly staged as a ballet of stylized, sweeping gestures on an open field were then wind blows wave-like motions in the tall grass.

In the end, the film culminates in a choreographed explosion of violence. It's not hard to see which film Quentin Tarantino watched before he shot the restaurant-scene in Kill Bill, also that in black and white (partly).

Words actually fail to express how much this film is able to captivate and entertain me. Not a single film can equal this one, regarding both its style and content. It is, in every aspect of the phrase, a "must-see" for a respectable cinephile, and a masterpiece if there ever was one.

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