Title: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Ichikawa Ebizo XI, Koji Yakusho, Motome Chijiiwa
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is a remake by Takashi Miike of the classic film of the same name. Miike is indeed a prolific filmmaker, who has worked within a dozen different genres, so it should come as no surprise that he has changed his direction to samurai fiction. Most notably, he has built up a reputation for his work within ultra-violent filmmaking with a philosophical edge. Recently, his film 13 Assassins garnered a lot of well deserved praise for his stellar action sequences. Hara-Kiri is a different animal, but works much the same way. Miike takes his time working towards the finale, while telling a story about love, honor and betrayal. This one is something different from his other films, where unusual, atypical storytelling insists upon itself, along with characters who do not fit into any archetype take priority. Death of a Samurai is weighed down by its melodrama and saccharine staging, something the original steered clear from. Less time is spent pondering and more time is spent making each scene feel simplistic. Realistically, there was little to improve on from the original, so its no surprise that is falls way short of reaching those great heights.
In Feudal Japan, hara-kiri was a common practice by many shamed samurai. It was considered a noble act, that accompanied great pride and bravery. Quite simply put, it’s the act of disemboweling yourself. We are introduced to a samurai who shows up on the doorsteps of a renowned clan asking to be allowed to commit the act (also called seppuku). Kageyu Saito (Koji Yakusho) is this samurai. On this day, however, the leader of the clan begins to tell a story of another who requested the same right. It is granted, but when the time has come for him to do it, he attempts to bide his own time and then decides to abandon it altogether. With honor and pride being as important as they are in this time period, you can imagine the outrage of the onlookers and their leader. This impoverished samurai, named Hanshiro Tsugumo (Ichikawa Ebizo XI) is forced to do it with his sword, which is revealed to actually be made of wood. It’s a bloody, grisly death that’s difficult to watch. Miike doesn’t go as far as he does in his earlier works–thank goodness–but it’s no less disturbing. He doesn’t pull the camera away until he collapses to the ground.
If you’ve seen the original, there is no reason that you should see the remake. Miike hasn’t done much to really establish the necessity of his decision to recreate an already perfect film. It feels a lot like Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, which was pointless and a waste of time. Neither film really does anything of their own, except change the actors and make the story a lot less engaging. It is worth noting that a lot of the themes still resonate strongly and they aren’t toned down for contemporary audiences. But it doesn’t save the film from being dull. For whatever reason, Miike added 3-D to his project which does nothing for the atmosphere. Every film Miike has directed he has always had his personality that reminds us that it’s him directing rather than a machine. That is unfortunately absent from this film. While 13 Assassins was a stellar action film, it had his trademark acting, cinematography and over-the-top violence. None of which can be found here. Granted, he hasn’t lost his touch. This is just an unimportant, forgettable film in his extensive catalogue.