Masaki Kobayashi is one of the great samurai films, winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize in 1962 and still as gripping as it was nearly 50 years ago. There are so many layers of excellence within this film, both when considering the timeless quality of the filmmaking as well as the political context of the themes within the period film. It may be a film which takes place in 1630, decades into a 250-year reign of the Tokugawa shogunate, but Harakiri also has specific significance to the dissidence taking place in 1962 as well. The jidai-geki, as these period-Japanese films with modern political messages are often called, allows Kobayasho to make a film which is both modern and relatable, while continuing a tradition of storytelling which had long been loved.
The samurai is a curiosity on film, as they were in real life. Though highly sought after during times of conflict, the samurai warrior was feared and avoided during times of peace. They were unable to do common labor, so they were often left to starve if there were no battles to be fought. They had one purpose and that purpose became unnecessary when there was a peaceful reign. This is a time in which Harakiri takes place; a time when poverty and unemployment was so high among ronin warriors that they had even debased themselves to the level of desperate actions in hopes of obtaining retainer in remaining clans.
The film begins with a samurai entering the house of the Lyi clan, claiming to want use of their courtyard for his own hara-kiri ceremony. They tell him the tale of a samurai who made the same claim with hopes of employment opportunity, but was forced to go through with the suicide ceremony instead. In a series of flashback we are given the whole story of this ronin, and through his defiance to the collective group hypocrisy is seen in their actions.
The Blu-ray release of Harakiri contains a truly a spectacular digitally restored high definition presentation of the classic film. The film has an optional video introduction by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie. Additional special features include an excerpt from a rare Directors Guild of Japan video interview with Kobayashi, as well as a separate collection of video interviews with star Tatsuya Nakadai and screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto and a theatrical trailer.