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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Japanese PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Video introduction by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie
  • Excerpt from a rare Directors Guild of Japan video interview with director Masaki Kobayashi, moderated by filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda
  • Video interviews with star Tatsuya Nakadai and screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto
  • Original theatrical trailer

Harakiri

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Masaki Kobayashi
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Rentaro Mikuni, Akira Ishihama, Shima Iwashita, Tetsuro Tanba, Masao Mishima, Ichiro Nakaya, Kei Sato, Yoshio Inaba, Yoshiro Aoki
1962 | 133 Minutes | Licensor: Shochiku

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #302
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: October 4, 2011
Review Date: October 22, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

Following the collapse of his clan, an unemployed samurai (Tatsuya Nakadai) arrives at the manor of Lord Iyi, begging to be allowed to commit ritual suicide on the property. Iyi's clansmen, believing the desperate ronin is merely angling for a new position, try to force his hand and get him to eviscerate himself-but they have underestimated his beliefs and his personal brand of honor. Winner of the 1963 Cannes Film Festival's Special Jury Prize, Harakiri, directed by Masaki Kobayashi is a fierce evocation of individual agency in the face of a corrupt and hypocritical system.

Forum members rate this film 9.4/10

 

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PICTURE

Masaki Kobayshiís Harakiri comes to Blu-ray from Criterion in its original aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc in a 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer. There are slight black bars to either side of the image for reasons unknown to me but these also appear on Criterionís DVD edition (whatever that could mean.)

The original DVD looked pretty good but itís showing its age and shortcomings a little more now. A lot of the film is done in long shots so details would get lost and look a little mushy. The Blu-ray presents far sharper details, most noticeable in the sequences where, in the foreground with his back to the camera, Nakadai talks to the house Counselor who is far in the background. In the DVDís presentation the Counselorís face is a little blurry and indistinct, while on the Blu-ray his face is far sharper and you can make out his eyes, mouth, nose, and other features far more easily. The pebbles that lie around the courtyard also come off far clearer and you can actually make them out individually in some cases. Close-ups present a staggering amount of detail, pores on faces, stray hairs and such coming through much clearer, and film grain remains intact.

The print presents very little in the way of damage and blemishes and actually looks cleaner than the DVD. Contrast may have been boosted a bit but otherwise I found this to be a rather clean presentation and it looks far more filmic than the DVD.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

I was actually surprised by the lossless Japanese linear PCM mono track. Though thereís an edginess to it itís a sharp track with quite a bit of life to it. Dialogue is clear and distinct, Nakadaiís voice even has a bit of bass to it. The music, which makes great use of the biwa, also has some noticeable range and still comes off fairly clean. Overall a pleasant surprise.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Though the DVD was a 2-disc set the edition was surprisingly light on special features, not even an hourís worth, and even then everything hasnít been carried over to this Blu-ray.

First is an introduction by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie where he talks about his first screening of Harakiri, Kobayashi in general, and then talks about the film, how it was seen as a film criticizing the then current political climate in Japan, and then adds some historical context. Itís brief at 12-minutes but a decent introduction, but I would recommend not watching this first if you have never seen the film before as he does give away the final act.

Next we get a 9-minute archival interview with director Masaki Kobayashi where he talks about the political climate in Japan at the time the film was made, and then gets into the more technical details of the film including the set design, the use of the biwa for the score, the script, and then talks about the filmís violence and the rather gruesome hara-kiri scene early on (which he says he came up with while drunk, which probably helped in making it as cruel as it is.) Somewhat amusing piece.

A Golden Age presents a 14-minute interview with actor Tatsuya Nakadai, recorded for the Criterion DVD in 2005. Here Nakadai talks about the great films that he was involved with in his 20ís (calling the era Japanís golden age) and then how he came to be involved in the production Harakiri. He says he had his doubts about playing the role saying he was definitely too young and that the role probably would have suited someone like Toshiro Mifune more, but he did do it and enjoyed the experience. He talks about the sword fight scenes (which were with real swords), working with Kobayashi and how he came to have a bit of a fight with fellow actor Rentaro Mikuni. As always Nakadai offers some engaging stories and insights making it a great inclusion to this release.

Also recorded in 2005 is an interview with screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto. In the short 13-minute segment he talks about how he came up with the idea of the film, which was developed over the years since he had helped Kurosawa with Seven Samurai, morphing from a ďday in the lifeĒ film about a samurai to what was ultimately written and filmed. He then talks about the structure of the story, which makes heavy use of flashbacks, despite being a device he hates, and then talks a little about the final sword fight. Despite its short length itís probably the most insightful segment on the making of the film in the video features.

The disc then closes with the theatrical trailer. The DVD edition had a small stills gallery with a few international posters for the film but theyíre inexplicably missing here. The booklet then includes an essay on the film and its time period by Joan Mellen. Following this is a reprint of a rather lengthy interview with the director from 1972, which is probably the strongest element to this release.

The features are interesting enough but thereís so little here. Again, like with the DVD, in this area this edition is a big disappointment.

4/10

CLOSING

The supplements are still a letdown but the transfer is a nice improvement, allowing for finer details to show through than what the DVD edition could possibly offer.


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