It’s that time of year again when film-nerds, cinema buffs and celluloid junkies descend on Melbourne for the International Film Festival. I don’t use these titles disparagingly though, but with a tinge of jealously.For several years before work commitments, I too would line up for animations, foreign masterpieces and music documentaries. Memorable highlights include the festival’s exposure of mind-blowing directors such as Ishii Sogo and Kim Ki-Duk, and a full day’s worth of film watching that started with a documentary on backyard wrestling in the backwaters of the US, to a teenage hooker who becomes a killing machine and which culminated in the premiere of Donnie Darko some 7 hours later. An exhausting day’s viewing.

The past few years, I have only managed a couple of films each festival and yesterday was my first, that film being Takashi Miike‘s Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai.

Takashi Miike’s output is prolific. Rarely does a year go by without a film of his at the festival, usually – as is the case this year – more than one. Because of his prodigious output, some of his films miss their mark, when his films are fully realised, they are astounding, at times unhinged, pieces of cinema.

Hara Kiri: Death of a Samurai is a remake of Masaki Kobayashi’s 1962 film, Hara Kiri. Set in 17th century Japan, it tells the story of a samurai, Hanshiro, who arrives at the house of a feudal lord requesting an honourable warrior’s death by seppuku; ritual suicide. The housemaster tells him of the story of Motome, also a poor samurai, who had come to the house with the same request some two months earlier. The housemaster reveals that Motome’s plea was, in fact, a hoax and that the samurais of the house cruelly insist that Motome go through with his original request.

The film is a slow burn tale of revenge. During the second act, we see the connections and the Shakespearean tragedy that befalls Hanshiro and Motome; however, it feels incredibly long and heavily underscores these tribulations. Similarly, Motome’s demise is crafted with sledgehammer-like subtlety, resulting in a brutally intense scene which will test the limits of some viewers. The themes of the film, such as the discarding of those who are trained to kill in times of peace, and that a House is greater than the individuals that populate it, have modern day contexts and these ideas are handled with a deft touch by Takashi. This is what I have come to expect from Takashi, a master’s touch with his directing ability – which has grown in recent years – to a penchant to show cruelty and violence unflinchingly, never shying away from those fringes of the human character. You leave the cinema after watching his films with an opinion, and a few images burnt into your retinas.



~ by spatialthoughts on August 12, 2012.

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