A film by Masaki Kobayashi
Japanese with English subtitles
Runtime: 133 mins
10th july 2011;5.45pm
Perks Mini Theater
Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi came of age in the postwar moment, a time when filmmakers were at the vanguard of dissident expression in that country. Drawing upon a rich history of protest in Japanese cinema, which had fallen dormant during the war and occupation years, filmmakers seized the opportunity to challenge those institutions that remained wedded to the nation’s feudal past. Of this generation of directors, none was as passionate as Kobayashi.
A samurai was a warrior employed by a daimyo. There were five classes of samurai, ranging from average foot soldier to high administrative personal, and while privileges varied, they all lived by the samurai code, which basically was to follow giri (duty to the lord) and bushido (way of the warrior). This meant, that the life of the samurai was in the hands of the daimyo. To give ones life to serve was the only way to die for a samurai.
Kobayashi's Harakiri is a scathing denouncement of feudal authority and hypocrisy. Based on a novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi, Harakiri is a scathing indictment on the hypocrisy, repression, and barbarism of codified behavior. Using rigid rectangular framing against fluid tracking shots and exquisitely composed long shots that delineate class station and social disparity, Masaki Kobayashi visually reflects the oppressive confinement and regimentation of the samurai bushido (code of conduct): the title sequence presented against shots of the empty passageways that lead to the sacred chamber of the Iyi clan's ancestral armor; the isolating, diagonal shots of Saito's interviews with Tsugumo and Chijiwa; the repeated image of Tsugumo on a ceremonial mat encircled by retainers. The visual style of Kobayashi is stunning. A master of long focal compositions, his mise-en-scene are carefully arranged in terms of space and layers. Note the use of present lines and shadow to divide the frame into layers, each with its own importance.
Equally impressive are his fight sequences, where he alters extreme long shots with close up. “Hara Kiri” hints towards Kobayashi’s flirtation with avant garde techniques, but only hints by the use of a sudden zoom or pan.
By illustrating the class stratification and imposed social conformity fostered by the Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1867) as a means of retaining and centralizing authority, Kobayashi presents a harrowing indictment of the ingrained cultural legacy of coercive, outmoded rituals, chauvinism, and blind obedience that resulted in the inhumanity and senseless tragedy of the Pacific War.
Masaki Kobayashi is one of Japan's most outstanding post-war humanist filmmakers. A contemporary of Akira Kurosawa and Kon Ichikawa, Kobayashi's personal experience of the Second World War has marked his pictures with a deep concern for social justice. This is well illustrated by two of his most well known films, the epic WW II trilogy The Human Condition (Ningen no Joken, 1959-61) and the period drama Harakiri (Seppuku, 1962). The anti-feudal critique expressed in Harakiri is reiterated in Kobayashi's 1967 samurai film Rebellion (Joiuchi).
His most acclaimed films are unflinching explorations into the dark side of Japanese culture, the side that drove men to commit gory suicide for the name of honor and commit horrific atrocities in the name of the Emperor. Kobayashi's exacting professionalism makes his films a visually and emotionally power experience.
Born in February, 1916, in Japan's northern-most island Hokkaido, Kobayashi entered prestigious Waseda University in 1933 . Kobayashi eventually left Waseda to enter Shochiku's Ofuna studios. Kobayashi worked as an assistant for a mere eight months before he was drafted and sent to the front in Manchuria. Opposed to the war, which he viewed as senseless, he refused to rise above the position of private. In 1944, he was transferred to the southern Ryukyu Islands, where he witnessed the war's final bloody tumult. There he was captured by the U.S. and held for a year in a detention camp in Okinawa.
In the fall of 1946, Kobayashi returned to Shochiku and served for six years as an assistant director under Keisuke Kinoshita. He garnered international acclaim and a prestigious San Giorgio prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1960 for his Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1958), the first installment of sweeping trilogy about the war. Kobayashi's films brought to life by the masterful performances of Nakadai in such Kobayashi classics as Harakiri (1962), Kwaidan (1964), and Samurai Rebellion (1967).With the acclaimed Kwaidan, his first color film, he pushed this emphasis on composition with his expressionistic use of color. Kobayashi died in of a heart attack in 1996.