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Blu-ray Reviews

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai Blu-ray Review



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#1 of 1 Cameron Yee

Cameron Yee

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Posted February 17 2013 - 12:24 PM

Showing that unnecessary remakes aren’t just a Hollywood thing, Japanese director Takashi Miike puts his spin on Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 cinema classic “Harakiri” and actually manages to acquit himself. The Blu-ray presentation courtesy of New Video also impresses, though the lack of bonus material and the remake nature of the film make it best viewed as a rental first.


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Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Release Date: January 22, 2013
Studio: Tribeca Films and New Video
Packaging/Materials: Blu-ray keepcase with slipcover
Year: 2011
Rating: NR
Running Time: 2:08:03
MSRP: $29.95


  THE FEATURE SPECIAL FEATURES
Video AVC: 1080p high definition 2.40:1 High definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: Japanese 5.1, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital: English 2.0
Subtitles English None

The Feature: 4/5

In 17th Century Japan, a masterless samurai, or ronin, named Hanshiro Tsukomo (Ebizô Ichikawa) shows up at the the House of Li requesting to use the clan courtyard to commit ritual suicide, or seppuku. The warrior has fallen on hard times since the deposing of his Lord Fukushima, and the self-sacrificial act would restore some semblance of honor after years of struggling in poverty.


In response, the house’s senior retainer offers a cautionary tale about a young ronin who showed up there just two months ago with the same request. But his was one of a spate of “suicide bluffs” meant to extort charity from clan houses, rather than the pursuit of an honorable, warrior’s death seppuku is meant to provide. The young man even showed up with a bamboo sword, revealing the depths of his foolishness. So, to send a message to the young ronin and any who might follow him with similar intentions, the Li clan samurai made him commit suicide with his dull, wooden sword. It was a grisly, merciless act, but one the samurai believed needed doing to uphold their long established values and traditions.


After hearing the pitiful tale, Tsukomo assures the retainer he has every intention of keeping his word. But as the warriors assemble once more in the courtyard to witness and assist in this latest seppuku, Tsukomo begins to tell his own story – about his life after the dissolution of his clan, how he struggled to provide for his family, and ultimately his connection to the young ronin who died so painful a death on their grounds. It will be a story the House of Li will not soon forget.


Director Takashi Miike is known for being a provocateur with his graphically violent films (his most notorious being “Ichi the Killer”), so it should come as no surprise that he would dare to remake a universally respected work like Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film “Harakiri." That he pulls it off is the real surprise, crafting a methodical, largely introspective film that ties the themes of honor and class conflict to our latest economic struggles. Though the story is inherently a timeless one, the remake is in many ways an update with an increased sense of relevance.


Unfortunately, despite the uncharacteristic stillness of the narrative, Miike doesn’t totally swear off his penchant for excess. The young ronin’s seppuku scene is excruciating to watch for both its level of gore and overall length. The middle section detailing Tsukomo and his family’s escalating poverty feels heavy handed by the inevitable conclusion. Even the climactic final scenes aren’t spared as the director makes a change from the original that drenches the proceedings with irony, but then at the cost of believability. While none of it necessarily undermines the film as a whole, which speaks to all the things that Miike does right around those moments, it does keep the film in the shadow of its predecessor. Better than being outright dismissed, however, which is what many probably expected when they heard what Miike was up to.


Video Quality: 4.5/5

Framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer features satisfyingly inky black levels and a full and uncompromised range of contrast. The naturalistic cinematography is dominated by blacks and earth tones, which makes the occasional shots of fall trees turning color seem almost shocking in their vibrancy. Detail and fine object rendering is also impressive, holding up from wide shots to close ups, with the pebble strewn courtyard and tile roofs looking particularly well defined.


Audio Quality: 3.5/5

Dialogue in the Japanese language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp and detailed. Both surround activity and LFE make infrequent showings, but a scene with a heavy rainstorm and an instance of taiko drums in the score reveal both qualities to be expertly mixed and balanced.


Special Features: 0.5/5


Geoffrey Gilmore, Chief Creative Officer of Tribeca Films, Discusses Hara-Kiri (1:47, HD)


Recap and Recommendation

The Feature: 4/5

Video Quality: 4.5/5

Audio Quality: 3.5/5

Special Features: 0.5/5

Overall Score (not an average): 4/5


Tribeca Films and New Video deliver an impressive high definition presentation for Takashi Miike’s largely effective remake of a respected Japanese cinema classic. The lack of real bonus material makes the release effectively barebones, but fans of the original looking for an exercise in compare-and-contrast should definitely give the film a rental. Those new to either film should do themselves a favor and give both films a look.





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