Spine No. 302
You’ll be happy to know, my eyes have finally seen a black and white samurai film not made by Akira Kurosawa! It took some courage, but you know overall, I think I made the right choice (fingers crossed). So who is this man? This Kobayashi? This filmmaker who allowed me to venture out into the world of Japanese filmmaking? Interestingly enough, his most acclaimed films came within a five year window between 1959-1964 – though I’ve been told Samurai Rebellion (1967) is pretty good – which included Ghost Stories and his almost ten hour film trilogy The Human Condition (which, like Shoah, I’m kind of putting on the back-burner).
Harakiri opens on an aged wanderer, his slow paces taking him towards a looming dojo in the distance. “Slow” is the name of the game, as Kobayashi stretches a 90 minute film forty minutes longer, but not longer than it needs to be. Normally I am against such things – brevity has become a favored characteristic of mine – but the anticipation catalyzed by this style only fortifies the entire viewing experience, allotting for a higher extreme of satisfaction and “wow” moments. Actors and cinematography work together for this result, which if student films are of any consolation, is a hard feat to accomplish.
Intentions account for everything in Kobayashi’s Harakiri, the worn samurai seeking harakiri obviously being our main focus. Though the multiple questions we hold for his character is by itself captivating, there is so much more to the film we can draw from, the Counselor, Chijiiwa Motome, and really the intention of the “samurai.” Simply put, I have enjoyed every samurai film Kurosawa has had to offer, I mean we’re talking Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Rashomon, and Seven Samurai to say a few, yet there is something new Kobayashi is able to bring to the table, a critique. A critique of the samurai way, the samurai code, and ultimately samurai honor. Kobayashi does something interesting, he makes the samurai clan the clear antagonist.
The Bonus Features:
“Harakiri: Kobayashi and History” by Joan Mellen
Mellen’s essay does what most Criterion essays do: talks a bit about the director, briefly touches upon the films plot, then dives head first into all the themes and meanings. I would recommend reading this before Mellen’s interview with Kobayashi as a sampler for what’s to come in store.
the written interview:
Interview with Masaki Kobayashi (1972, 17 pages)
There is so much information thrown at you in this interview conducted by Joan Mellen. Kobayashi sums up most of his career, covering many of his films and ideologies, talking about themes and intentions. It really is a beast of knowledge, which is obviously a good thing, just takes time to digest.
the video introduction:
Donald Richie Introduction (2004, 11 min.)
Mr. Donald Richie is a Japanese-film scholar with myriads of knowledge. Fortunately for us, Richie had a personal relationship with Kobayashi giving this video introduction a bit more weight and substance. Of course, with personal relationships come strong biases, which is no different in this case, yet I cannot help but agree with pretty much everything he has to say. He has a few words to say about writer, Hashimoto, and then transitions into Kobayashi’s originality when it comes to the anti-samurai film.
“Kobayashi attacked the house at its very roots, at the very beginning.” – Donald Richie
the video interviews:
Masaki Kobayashi (1993, 10 min.)
Kobayashi’s interview with Masahiro Shinoda is fantastic. He talks about his style, aesthetic, his stream of consciousness while he was making Harakiri, as well as all the collaborative forces that came together to create the film. The only thing that would have made this interview better was if Shinoda gave Kobayashi a little more room to talk.
A Golden Age (2005, 13 min.)
This interview with Harakiri star Tatsuya Nakadai gave great behind the scenes insight to the film. Little easter eggs here and there you might not get anywhere else. He talked about Kobayashi’s relaxed nature, his on set arguments, and the use of real blades during the production. He was right in the middle of Japan’s Golden Age of cinema.
Masterless Samurai (2005, 12 min.)
Legendary screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto gave a few moments of his time to sit down and talk with the people of the Criterion Collection, in which we lucky viewers get to witness the insights and philosophies of an utter genius. If you don’t know him, he pretty much wrote Kurosawa’s filmography and apparently wrote the script for Harakiri in 11 days. Genius, absolute genius.
OVERALL: Buy this one, it’s well worth it. Aside from being one of the greatest Japanese films of all time, it comes with a sturdy amount of bonus features to justify the purchase. And like me you can consider Harakiri inspiration to some day take on Kobayashi’s The Human Condition.
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