Masaki Kobayashi (1967)
If you watch Kurosawa movies too much you run the risk of forgetting that period pieces, and samurai movies in particular, don't have to be about fighting. There is certainly enough in Japanese culture to fill many a bloodless film. In fact, you can use a single traditional ritual as your framing device for your entire film, even though Harakiri is not entirely bloodless.
I am having trouble writing about this film without this becoming an essay on the many ways in which it is excellent. I am oddly dispassionate about the while thing. I would love to know how much of the story is a reflection of life in post-war Japan and how much of that is me inventing parallelisms. I had the same thought when I was watching Ugetsu, so there is a good chance I am bringing something to these movies.
Beyond that issue, Harakiri says a lot about considering the entire humanity of people when dealing with them and the hypocrisy of self-righteousness, but again, not an essay. It also reminds us of the ever-present possibility that even the powerful may fall. Man, this not writing an essay thing is getting hard.
Let's try talking about what I didn't like. The movie's structure becomes seamless after the first few scenes but I found the beginning a bit disconcerting. The time jumps were unclear and there was one point where I had to readjust my understanding of what had just happened. It might be just me being thick, but it made it hard to dive into the movie. Good thing the rest of it was so good. There were also a few shots, among the generally glorious cinematography, that I didn't appreciate, notably a few over the shoulder ones.
The movie relies a lot on exaggeration. There is a brand of adamant stubbornness in the samurai that I have encountered in other Japanese films in the past and that feels somewhat extreme - but then, I don't know many swordsmen from the 1600s. The fight is also a bit slapsticky, but not necessarily in a bad way, because it is less about the realistic depiction of how the situation would play out than the conclusion of the movie's theme. It was still if ever so slightly ridiculous, and I wonder if some Kurosawa movies would feel like that too if I were to rewatch them now.
I don't think I could ever love Harakiri. Its intelligence is thrilling but a bit cold. The film only conveys emotion when it gets darkest (and it gets Grave of the fireflies dark), which makes it all about sober, humourless storytelling. Great storytelling certainly, but not very joyous stuff. The best compliment I can pay this film is that it is fascinating in what it teaches the profane about feudal Japan, and that might not even be the best thing about it.
Took me long enough. Maybe I should fill my list with movies that are less difficult to get.