Harakiri: Criteron Collection

January 28, 2012 5 Min Read

Review by: Fusion3600

Plot: What’s it about?

The act of harakiri is a suicide, an honorable death in which a samurai plunges his own sword deep within his stomach and disembowels himself. The reason behind such a horrific act is often the loss of honor, as a warrior seeks to regain his honor through death. Lord Iyi’s house is often visited by warriors who seek to perform the act on the land, but history has not been kind to those visitors. Lord Iyi, concerned that the warriors might be seeking charity instead of honorable death, settles for no less than death. In the past, warriors have endured painful deaths when the act is committed there. After his clan disbanded, Hanshiro Tsugumo ventures to there and as others had before him, asks for permission to engage harakiri on the premises. There is soon a struggle between the Iyi clansmen and Tsugumo, one which slowly becomes more and more tense. What will become of the unemployed samurai, surrounded by skilled swordsmen?

If you’re a fan of samurai cinema, then The Criterion Collection has a release you will not want to miss, Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri. This film is well known, perhaps not the level of the most famous samurai pictures, but the film is well known in film buff circles. This is a movie that places the emphasis on honor over the blade, but of course, when push comes to shove, the blood is spilled. The violence is not graphic however, quite the opposite in fact. The power of suggestion is used to make the violent scenes seem more brutal than they are, which is quite effective. The visuals are stunning across the board in Harakiri, but there is deep substance behind the impressive style. A sharp, brutal social commentary underlines the feudal storyline, which puts the samurai lifestyle into a perspective we don’t often see in cinema. Not the glamorous, sword wielding side, but the darker and more desperate side. As always, Criterion has conjured up a deluxe edition that fans will love, so Harakiri is given a more than solid recommendation.

Video: How does it look?

Harakiri is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The visual impact is vital to this picture, as the pictures tell part of the story, so the transfer had to be excellent. The gorgeous black & white photography shines here, very sharp and well detailed, I simply can’t believe this film was made in 1962, not by looking at this transfer. The contrast is always smooth and very stark, some of the best black & white images I’ve seen on home video…ever. I think fans will be thrilled to no end and newcomers highly impressed also, as Criterion has outdone themselves with this incredible treatment.

Audio: How does it sound?

A very clean mono track is present, which provides a solid experience and shows little in terms of age problems. I heard some harshness here and there, but in the end, this is an acceptable audio presentation. The vocals come off in fine form, with only slight problems at times and the sound effects are crisp also. This film doesn’t use sound effects for impact much though, so don’t expect a powerhouse mix, even by mono standards. I am very pleased with this track and I am glad Criterion used the original mono, as opposed to a remixed surround track, like other studios sometimes do. This disc also includes English subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

This disc includes interviews with star Tatsuya Nakadai and screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, a rare interview excerpt with director Masaki Kobayashi, and the film’s theatrical trailer. Not a loaded edition, but the interviews are a great resource for production details. I would have liked an audio commentary with an Asian film expert, but you can’t win them all, right?

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