The first 3-D film in competition at Cannes is not for the squeamish with its bloody depiction of a young samurai who literally falls on his sword. “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” by Japan’s godfather of gore Takashi Miike is a remake of the 1962 classic from Masaki Kobayashi set in the 17th century Edo period when shoguns ruled the land of the rising sun.
It screened on Thursday at the Cannes film festival, which wraps on Sunday when a jury led by American screen legend Robert De Niro picks the winner of the coveted Palme d’Or. Miike is famous for blood-and-guts scenes in such signature pieces as “Ichi the Killer,” “Audition” and most recently “13 Assassins”, and by his own standards “Hara-Kiri” is relatively mild. “I did not set out to do a film on violence,” the 50-year-old director told a press conference through an interpreter. “It was manipulated by the characters and the tale, so in the end it turned out to be a violent film. It was the film itself that dictated the way in which it was shot.”
“Hara-Kiri” stars kabuki veteran Ebizo Ichikawa as Hanshiro, a down-at-heels samurai who goes to the local feudal lord (Koji Yakusho) to propose killing himself, in hopes that he might instead be given alms in sympathy. He is told of another, younger samurai, Motome (Eita) who once had the same idea to get money for his sick baby, only for the feudal lord to call his bluff. It is Motome’s death at the front end of this flashback movie that makes the most of three-dimensional cinema, as he stabs himself more than a dozen times in the stomach with a short wooden sabre.
With blood spewing, he then drops onto the weapon, pressed between his gut and the crushed stone of the courtyard, while gazing up in agony at a samurai hovering over him with a steel sword, begging him to finish him off. It turns out that Motome is Hanshiro’s son-in-law, in a rebel-without-a-cause story that concludes with Hanshiro taking all comers in a swashbuckling climax before he too bites the dust. Ichikawa, 33, whose good looks have led some to call him the Brad Pitt of Japan, has been living his own drama after he got caught up in a highly publicised Tokyo bar brawl last November that left him with facial injuries.
Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai