Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Revocate the Agitator

Takashi Miike makes directing look so fun. His material ranges from gruesome torture macabre to G rated children's films, hitting almost everything in between along the way. What genre hasn't he tackled?

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011, Takashi Miike) is majestically sparse.

Set in 17th century Japan, this Jeremy Thomas-produced, Ryuichi Sakamoto-scored costume samurai buskin portends a solemn, restrained ballad of desaturated hues, tons of silence, and ominously zen rock gardens.

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai doesn't appear as a filmed play, although because of its minimal use of characters and locations, it easily could have. Miike overcomes this pitfall by shooting ornate tableaux with a floating 3D omniscient POV through predominantly wide-angled lenses.

Miike often makes movies without any graphic violence, but just because Hara-Kiri:Death of a Samurai doesn't illustrate the explicit carnage doesn't mean that the film isn't visceral--it is.

The gut becomes the epicenter of where a man's test of self is played out. In Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai a nuclear family has to deal with the throes of insurmountable poverty. Motome, Miho, Kingko and their unnamed white cat inherit the same set of circumstances most Hollywood casts battled during the Great Depression, with a similar uncorrupted innocence.

The film's themes are embedded in the arc of Hanshiro and his virtue in the face of oppression. He's up against impossible odds, and Lord Kageyu of the House of li represents an unswayable set of fixed values as old as the rocks and wood that make up the architecture of the various structures the film occurs in. The plot is classically archetypal, yet is stripped down to the grim mechanics of the court martial-like interrogation of the samurai Hanshiro.

Characters are sketched lightly. The dominance of the House of li's military might is in direct opposition to the starving family--and this is the heart of the film. Doomed lovers practically deserve their own genre. From Romeo and Juliet to You Only Live Once (1937, Fritz Lang) and They Live by Night (1949, Nicholas Ray), the death of young romance is the fodder of endless photoplays.

And seeing as how this is one of those rare occurences where the victims (Motome and Miho) are completely faultless, their struggles earned my sympathy especially in the way in which I kept thinking about how this story is so relevant today. What's the solution? Beats me.

We're a frail species.


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