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Director:Masaki Kobayashi
Cast:Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Shima Iwashita, Rentaro Mikuni, Yoshio Inaba
Genre:Drama, Foreign, Classic

At the Charles Theatre at noon July 22, 4 p.m. July 24, and 9 p.m. July 27.

By Bret McCabe | Posted 7/19/2006

Claiming that the greatest samurai movie ever made not only wasn’t directed by Akira Kurosawa but also doesn’t star Toshiro Mifune could get you beaten in some film geek circles, but it’s simply the honest truth: Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 Harakiri turns the samurai movie into metaphysical humanist essay. Masterless 17th-century samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo (the great Tatsuya Nakadai) just wants to commit ritualistic suicide to die nobly—but he has to seek a lord’s permission to do so in his courtyard. Many other aging samurai, their services increasingly outdated, make the same request merely as a form of begging, and the lord Kageyu Saito (Rentaro Mikuni) admonishes Tsugumo against false requests with a horrible story about the last samurai who made this request. Tsugumo is undeterred and asks only that he be allowed to tell his story—and in so doing eviscerates social caste systems, whether they bind samurais to codes or people to countries. Kobayashi, a somewhat lesser-known Japanese master whose 1964 Kwaidan remains breathtaking magical filmmaking 40 years on, treats the samurai flick as a myth to be autopsied the way Robert Altman and Sam Peckinpah would the western about a decade later.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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