Masaki Kobayashi‘s Harakiri is my favorite chambara of all time.
I don’t say that lightly. In my estimation it ranks above Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Lone Wolf and Cub, and just about any other samurai film you’re likely to have seen or heard of. I don’t mean that as a slight on those films – rather, it’s a measure of how high I hold Harakiri. And I”m not alone. Remember the shootout at the end of Taxi Driver, where Travis Bickle goes on his insane killing rampage? I have a sneaking suspicion that Scorcese cribbed that from Harakiri – a tight, white-hot firebrand of anger aimed at dispelling whatever myths the viewer might have about the sanctity of bushido.
Tatsuya Nakadai, whom most will remember as the gun-toting maniac Unosuke in Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, is Hanshiro Tsugumo – a masterless samurai who has arrived at the gates of the Iyi clan requesting to use their courtyard to commit ritual suicide in the usual manner. What follows is a deconstruction of bushido ethics that unfolds in harrowing, methodical detail.
The suit of armor which bookends the film’s opening and closing shots is a powerful symbol of honor and martial spirit at one end and a hollow shell devoid of humanity at the other. Between the two is a beautiful tale of angry desperation – a napalm-hot declaration of war on the power of blind adherence to tradition.
And lest you think Kobayashi is a man whose personal convictions don’t live up to his art, consider this: during World War II Kobayashi served in the Japanese Imperial Army; he refused any commission above private to ensure he would serve his tour of duty exposed to the same danger as the lowest men in his unit.
That’s what makes Harakiri my favorite chambara of all time.
Link: Roger Ebert’s Great Movies – Harakiri
Cross-Post: Geeky & Genki