Friday, August 10, 2012

Ichimei (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai) (2011)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge.

Hey, a new Miike film! It sounds like that guy has really mellowed out since his Audition and Ichi the Killer days, so I'm a lot less trepidatious about seeing his newer movies. I didn't know much about Hara-Kiri, never having seen the original, but it's rare that I take in an old-fashioned samurai film despite my love for Japanese culture and history. Structured through the frame story of n poor aging samurai (Ichikawa Ebizo) requesting the honor of committing ritual suicide in the home of a powerful lord, the primary plot concerns a young man (Eita) of the samurai class who fights to make a living as a teacher in his poor town. He marries the narrating samurai's daughter and they are happy for a time, but eventually poor health and poverty threaten to tear the family apart and he must take drastic action.

Quiet and drawn out in its storytelling, Hara-Kiri is a study in samurai honor codes and the desperation brought on by peace in the Edo Period. The mood is ever-pensive, ever-reserved, all very "Japanese" in the classical sense. I can appreciate a serious, thoughtful period piece as much as the next person, but I found all the melodrama in this too much to take at times. Everyone has a million problems, everything is felt acutely, and entrenched obsession with pride and honor rules the day instead of rational thought. The cast is strong, especially Ichikawa Ebizo, who simmers with hidden badassery for most of the film and then unleashes everything for a short but sweet fight scene at the end. Stylistically Miike is fairly austere, with extended shots of darkened wooden interiors and a sparse musical score. I worried that a film dealing with seppuku would have scenes of bloody disemboweling and beheading but actually there is little in the way of gore. Unfortunately after two hours of depressing mawkishness I was kind of hoping for some blood.

Not bad, just too slow and quiet for my tastes. The lovely imagery and good performances kept me engaged, though.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: As far as I can tell it's better to just watch the original instead of this one, but otherwise I don't know. Double Suicide, maybe?

2 comments:

  1. I enjoyed the original quite a bit and am interested in seeing this new version. How would you compare this with Miike's recent "13 Assassins"?

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  2. Stu: I liked 13 ASSASSINS better, though mostly for that amazing final 30 minutes!

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