Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, directed by Takashi Miike (2011)
Thought I'd end my Samurai streak, for now, on a high note.
Normally known for his works of extremity, violence, dark humor, Miike proves his capability as a great filmmaker with this work of stillness, naturalism, and subtlety, a remake of Masaki Kobayashi's masterpiece.
It is a time of peace in Japan, and many poverty-stricken samurai attempt suicide bluffs at their temples, hoping to be talked out of their intentions to commit hara-kiri and be given some money instead. When a mysterious Samurai requests hara-kiri, the lord warns him of another who came with the request and met a brutal end. But the mysterious Samurai persists, but in the courtyard, ready to die, he begins a tale that no one could have predicted.
Told in a beautiful flashback structure, Hara-Kiri is a mostly quiet and intimate drama. It sets an atmosphere and a stage and then begins to tell its story, one that is restrained, dramatic, beautiful, and powerfully, shatteringly tragic. The score is gorgeous as is the slow-moving, sweeping cinematography. And there are times when it seems to be slightly too long, but the film is a quiet buildup, the kind that carries weight and purpose in its every moment as it builds not to the kind of wild, rewarding bloodshed of, say, Miike's 13 Assassins, but to a conclusion that shocks with how it takes your breath away with its spectacle, and breaks your heart with its profound power. I remember seeing it for the first time, disturbed in particular by a scene of cruel brutality, moved deeply by the story that the film told, and being shaken so much by the ending, the poignant and powerful statement it makes about humanity in the face of the cruelty and inhumanity of a system and code and government, that I didn't even know whether I liked the film for a time, so disturbed, traumatized, but amazed as I was. It is a hard film to watch, but it is a masterpiece.
And here is a very unpopular opinion. I love this film even more than the original. That isn't to say it's a better film, it's simply that this one reached further into my mind and heart, and moved me in a deeper way.