BFI London Film Festival 2011: ‘Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai’


Takashi Miike’s Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Ichimei, 2011) – starring Kôji Yakusho, Naoto Takenaka and Hikari Mitsushima – can best be described as troublesome; a remake (based on Masaki Kobayashi Harakiri [1962]) that is full of potential, yet ultimately fails to deliver. The plot is your usual fair of revenge and honour that focuses on a struggling samurai who discovers that his son-in-law has committed ritual suicide, leading to him acting out his revenge upon the feudal lord who allowed his death.

The act of seppuku (harakiri) is one that has fascinated Western minds due to its extreme dedication to the concept of retaining honour to the point of death. The problem with Miike’s Hara-Kiri is that rather than tackling the concept in a interesting way, Miike puts his audience through an initial, overly-grotesque scene of suicide involving a bamboo sword, that lasts approximately ten minutes. The violence goes beyond the justifiable and edges towards torture porn in its lack of artistic merit.

A further problem is that Miike has decided to present his film in 3D. In Hara-Kiri the technology is nothing less that totally abortive, obscuring the action on screen (3D snow often impairs the audience’s line of sight) and mutes what is potentially a beautiful palette.

Hara-Kiri is a relatively slow-burning drama told in reverse, with the final scenes concluding in the present. The narrative deals with some very bleak concepts, and are unfortunately poorly handled by Miike and his cast, with many of the performances coming across as overly melodramatic.

Whilst not a complete disaster for the director, Hara-Kiri is certainly one of the weakest of Miike’s recent efforts, paling in comparison to his last film, 13 Assassins. For die-hard Miike fans, you’d be best advised to wait for the DVD/Blu-ray release and thus avoid the intrusive 3D.

For more BFI London Film Festival 2011 coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh