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The long fuse is such a tricky gamble with a film. So much easier to just keep throwing action and eye candy at the viewer. The problem is what works for one person might be too slow for another. Perhaps the most acclaimed long fuse on the boards is Once Upon a Time in the West. A great recent example is Inglorious Bastards, a series of long fuses. Harakiri was a long fuse, which is why Antares said...
Obviously, I need to watch Samurai Rebellion immediately.
Going by your ranking of Harakiri, you may not be enthralled by it. It's very similar in its pacing and story structure.
I can't tell you why the waiting in Harakiri didn't click with me the way it did in Samurai Rebellion. Maybe it's because I was coming off of The Human Condition at the time. I easily think outside factors played into it, but the important thing is Samurai Rebellion was Awesome! Two-thirds of constantly building tension, leading to a third-act that reminded me a lot of the great finales Sergio Leone would provide. I could so easily have been bored by the film which is mostly talk and the avoidance of action. Years ago I'm certain that would be the case.
The plot starts in confusion but builds through the characters and the proper articles of respect and honor into a great moral dilemma. This is what I like best about Japanese cinema, the way moral codes and personal beliefs are often put in conflict with each other. (There's a similar drama frequently for British films, but I'm much more fascinated by it in the Japanese context.) From there is a build of rights and wrongs every bit as good as Shakespeare and Greek tragedy. Clans are put in opposition to their Lords and forced to choose between shaming their master or themselves. Eventually, this build will end in the drawing of swords.
Toshirô Mifune stars, and he's good but not great. A bit of a bad fit at first as his character demands Mifune greatly muffle his charisma. As the conflict builds, Mifune grows more comfortable with the part. I'm curious as to what lead Kobayashi's usual lead Tatsuya Nakadai to take the guest star role. He's the best friend of Mifune who plays an important part in the finale when he must make a moral decision of his own.
Masaki Kobayashi delivers another masterpiece of direction. Yesterday I spoke about the opening shot
where the sword becomes a man and the man becomes his sword. Stylistic flourishes (freeze frames, dramatic lighting shifts) are minimal, and very striking when they're employed. Like the basement scene in Bastards, frames are classic yet wonderfully composed. Sometimes it reminded me of the stillness of Ozu. I got increasingly giddy as each demand was countered and the options box slowly emptied out.