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May 21, 2012 | by  | in Arts Film |
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Review – Hara Kiri: Death Of A Samurai

Directed by Takashi Miike

4/5

After last year’s phenomenal 13 Assassins, Western audiences were expecting much from Takashi Miike’s next foray into the samurai genre. However, Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai is not what many were expecting. Instead of being an adrenaline rush, the film is more of a meditative drama, set in feudal Japan and interspersed with bouts of violence. Despite this, Hara Kiri can, at times, be a ponderous tale which struggles to find any sort of momentum.

For a samurai film [chambara – ed.], Hara Kiri is surprisingly subversive. It follows the story of a poverty-stricken samurai seeking answers in relation to the death of his son by hara kiri (ritual suicide). As the man slowly discovers the role of a feudal lord in his son’s death, his plan of revenge slowly comes to fruition. Miike expertly takes Japanese notions of honour and gradually picks them apart, revealing a society that prides itself on rigid traditions rather than compassion.

Miike is, as ever, a master of design and cinematography. Every shot feels painstakingly crafted, every set expertly constructed. Miike’s mastery over style is a pleasure to behold and effectively draws us into a world which appears serene on the surface, but is fraught with tension.

Unfortunately, the film quickly devolves into a celebration of style over substance. During the middle section, Miike
becomes fixated on obscure imagery to the detriment of everything else. As the camera lingers over yet another billowing curtain, the audience’s interest quickly wanes. The initial intrigue of the opening is washed away by tedium as the pace crawls to a halt.

There is no doubt that this is a visually accomplished film. Alas, too often Miike gets lost in minute details instead of focussing on the sublime narrative that he has engineered. With some more consistent pacing and tighter editing this could have been his crowning achievement. As it stands the film is merely very good.

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