‘Harakiri: Death of a Samurai’

While I was planning to write of ‘The Deluge’ today, I think that has to wait for another day. The why is related to a movie I watched this evening, ‘Harakiri: Death of a Samurai’. Admittedly, I think the English title is a bit of an overkill, but the movie itself was superb.

I will, however, begin with a bit of a backstory that I’ve dug up. It would seem that this film from 2011 is a remake of a 1962 version by Masaki Kobayashi. I read through the synopsis for that, and it seemed slightly different in details if not in the end result. I do believe I would like to see that as well. That, in turn, was adopted from a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi. I am quite sure the novel would also make for an interesting read.

What then was the thing to appreciate in this movie?

I think there is a particular slowness, elegance, and grace that is inherent in Japanese movies (assuming they have been done at least above average). In this specific instance, this elegance assumed the form of an older samurai saying what needed to be said. For some reason, I think that Yamamoto Tsunetomo would approve of the view the older samurai presented — that honour is relative and subjective.

I do wonder why the movies have taken it against the Ii clan though. Is it because of the purges later to follow which did not distinguish between honour and dishonour? Only views mattered then, and a similar adherence to ideology could be seen very deeply entrenched in this Ii clan of 1637 as it would be in the 1850’s. I would think that is an important part of the symbology that could be explored further.

Likewise, what we see is a mockery of what the Tokugawa became — a ruling class impoverished by their obligations and yet unable to change. Who was in control? The bureaucracy more than anyone else. There was a lot hidden in this movie, but for all that I don’t think there are many people who could read into it as much without the necessary historical background. Maybe I am simply inventing things where they did not exist. Why was the Ii clan chosen?

The melancholy and elegance with which this story was presented made it even more beckoning. In a way, this same Japanese style of art I described above is the same as in ‘Meijin’. As good a book it is, it is only enhanced by the foreshadowing of how everything is going to end. In a way, this also happens in ‘Harakiri’ — it can only end in one way. But it is an end that emphasizes once more what we need to see in our days.

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