out of Five
Running time: 126
Takashi Miike's remake of a classic samurai melodrama from 1963 certainly isn't what you'd expect from the controversial Japanese director's first venture into 3D. Instead of a flurry of swords jumping out of the screen, Miike instead concentrates on a sad, cautionary period tale about love and honour.
What it's all about?
It's peace time in Japan in 1640, leaving many samurai out of work and impoverished. The wealthy house of Li have become aware of ronins (masterless samurai) asking feudal lords to let them use their courtyards to commit ritual suicide, knowing that they will take pity on them and pay them off instead. When ronin Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) asks unsympathetic clan lord Kageyu (Koji Yakusho) for the use of his courtyard, Kageyu recounts the tale of young Ronin Motome (Eita) who was forced by Kageyu to go through with the ritual and cut out his own heart despite only possessing a wooden blade. Unknown to Kageyu, Hanshiro was Motome's father-in-law and is seeking revenge for his cruel death.
Dramatically, the opening and closing scenes in the House of Li are everything you'd hope for. Stomach-churning is what Miike is known for, and with Monotome's forced death he certainly lives up to that. The scene emphasises both the horror of the situation and the clan lord's misplaced notion of honour. Ichikawa's imposing presence and cool stare bring a solemnity to Hanshiro which works well in the tense standoff scenes with Kageyu, as each tries to out-manoeuvre the other.
Despite a climatic battle sequence filmed mid-snowfall, the film benefits little from being in 3D; indeed Miike's previous film 13 Assassins would have been a far better candidate for the treatment. The emphasis throughout is not on action, but melodrama - with a rather long and overstated middle section devoted to Monotome's backstory which has little dramatic tension.
The taut, tense opening and closing sequences may not be enough for action hungry Miike fans, and sadly Hara Kiri doesn't deliver on the melodramatic front either. It is however worth seeking out the original 1963 film instead.