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Set in 17th-century Japan, director Masaki Kobayashi's HARAKIRI stars Tatsuya Nakadai (RAN) as masterless samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo. Structured in a series of flashbacks, the film opens in a period of serenity that has brought about a consolidation of power in Japan, resulting in the release of many samurai from their feudal obligations. These men--Hanshiro included--are in desperate straits, struggling to avoid poverty and starvation. According to their code, they must appear at clan estates and offer to commit seppuku, or ritual disembowelment, and often the clan retainer will offer them work or alms. When Hanshiro arrives at such an estate, the chief retainer Kageyu Saito (Rentaro Mikuni) tells him a cautionary tale about the fate of samurai Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama), who was forced to commit seppuku with a dull bamboo sword as punishment for dishonoring the samurai code.
For more about Harakiri and the Harakiri Blu-ray release, see Harakiri Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on September 3, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Shima Iwashita, Tetsurô Tanba, Masao Mishima, Yoshio Inaba
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
» See full cast & crew
Harakiri Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, September 3, 2011
Winner of the Jury Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Masaki Kobayashi's "Seppuku" a.k.a "Harakiri" (1962) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include the film's original theatrical trailer; video introduction by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie; video interview with Masaki Kobayashi conducted by fellow director Masahiro Shinoda; video interview with Japanese icon Tatsuya Nakadai; and a video interview with screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto. The disc also arrives with an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Joan Mellen and a reprint of an interview with Masaki Kobayashi. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-A "locked".
Japan, 1630. Disillusioned ronin Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai, Yojimbo, Kagemusha) enters the manor of Lord Lyi and asks for permission to commit harakiri (self-inflicted disembowelment). The clan's leader, Kageyu Saito (Rentarô Mikuni, The Burmese Harp, Vengeance Is Mine), is reluctant to grant his wish because he suspects that Hanshiro is simply looking for charity -- like Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama, Namida, Day-Dream), another masterless ronin, who not long before Hanshiro attempted to cheat the wealthy clan.
But Hanshiro insists that he has made up his mind and is indeed ready to die -- with a proper ceremony. Intrigued and sensing that Hanshiro is sincere, the clan's leader decides to hear his story to determine whether to grant his wish or ask him to leave.
Hanshiro begins his story...
Harakiri is brutal, dark and deeply unsettling, lacking the glamor of Akira Kurosawa's samurai films. Almost immediately after Hanshiro enters the manor of Lord Lyi it becomes obvious that he is a different kind of ronin, fearless but disillusioned and angry at the system he belongs to, desperate and sad. Kurosawa's ronin are proud and optimistic men, comfortable in their own skin, fitting well into the samurai system. Hanshiro is the exact opposite of what they are -- he is an outcast, a man who despises the culture and philosophy he represents.
The legendary Tatsuya Nakadai essentially plays three different characters in Harakiri. The first time Hanshiro appears on the screen he is a fearless warrior. He immediately creates the impression of a man who always speaks the truth. Later on, a series of flashbacks reveal his human side. During the final third of the film, Hanshiro becomes an animal and anger takes over his body.
Directed by acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi, who also directed the monumental nine-and-a-half-hour drama The Human Condition, Harakiri is a powerful condemnation of a feudal system and the hypocrisy and cynicism it has fostered. It is also an effective statement in favor of individualism, and specifically the notion that an individual can challenge and change the ethical standards of an unjust social system.
The film is brilliantly lensed by cinematographer Yoshio Miyajima (Kwaidan, Empire of Passion). Long shots and fast zooms are used with incredible precision, giving the film a distinctively contemporary look.
The film also boasts a spectacular music score, arguably one of the best ever conceived for a Japanese period film, courtesy of acclaimed composer Toru Takemitsu (Woman in the Dunes, Double Suicide) -- a variety of minimalistic biwa solos enhance the tense atmosphere throughout the film remarkably well.
Note: In 1963, Harakiri won the Jury Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. During the same year, the film also won Best Actor Award (Tatsuya Nakadai) at the Kinema Junpo Awards and Best Film, Best Film Score, Best Art Direction (Junichi Ozumi Shigemasa Toda) and Best Sound Recording (Hideo Nishizaki) Awards at the Mainichi Film Concours.
Harakiri Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.34:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
Criterion's high-definition transfer appears to have been sourced from the same Shochiku master which British distributors Eureka Entertainment had access to when they prepared their Blu-ray release of Harakiri. Naturally, the two share some similar characteristics. However, they are not identical.
Detail is once again very impressive, especially during close-ups. Criterion's transfer is also slightly darker, but during the indoor scenes, where most of the time light is restricted, clarity is again very good. The small color pulsations from Criterion's SDVD release of Harakiri have been effectively addressed. As I expected, however, Criterion have strengthened black levels and also adjusted sharpness levels during selected sequences. The grays also tend to be slightly stronger, though they do not appear drastically different than the ones seen on the UK Blu-ray release; the whites are slightly better saturated. As a result, Criterion's release has a marginally richer but also occasionally harsher look (see screencapture #1). Lastly, there are no traces of excessive noise reduction. Unsurprisingly, there is a layer of fine grain throughout the entire film. There are no large cuts, debris, stains, or warps to report in this review. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Harakiri Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Japanese LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
I compared selected scenes - and specifically scenes where the biwa solos are prominent - from the Criterion release and the UK Blu-ray release (which features a Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track). As far as dynamic intensity and crispness are concerned, the two are practically identical. The dialog is also equally clean, stable, and easy to follow. However, I did notice some very minor differences in the English translation.
Harakiri Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Harakiri Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As expected, Criterion's Blu-ray release of Masaki Kobayashi's Harakiri is impressive. It looks slightly different when compared to Eureka Entertainment's release, but both are hugely satisfying. I personally think that overall Criterion's release is the better package, because it has a better selection of supplemental features, but I cannot see how anyone could be in any way disappointed with Eureka Entertainment's release. Whether you reside in a Region-A or Region-B country, and no matter which release you choose, you are in for a very, very special treat. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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