The prospect of the first 3D competition film ever to screen at the Cannes Film Festival directed by the ridiculously prolific Japanese madman Takashi Miike sounds too good to be true. And unfortunately, that’s the case. “Hara Kiri,” Miike’s remake of Masaki Kobayashi‘s 1962 film, is the complete opposite of what you might expect from a three-dimensional samurai movie from the director. Lethargically paced, visually dull and with an emphasis on drama over action, “Hara Kiri” plays like a bad Merchant Ivory film with a lot of sonorous or off-key acting building up to very little.
While we can debate whether the original should have been remade or not, theoretically, the story leaves a lot of ultimately unused room for Miike to play with. When we first meet Motome (Eita) he’s at the end of his rope. An unemployed ronin with a wife and child, he goes to a noble house in a bid to try and get some money by claiming he will commit hara kiri. As his last request he asks for a small amount of cash and a few hours to deliver it to his wife, promising he’ll return in a few hours to make good on his ritual suicide. But having been fooled before, the highers up at the noble house decide to make an example out of Motome, call his bluff and brutally force him to commit seppuku using a sword made of a bamboo blade. A little later, an older samurai, Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa) arrives at the noble house with a curiously similar request. Warily, the lords recount the story of Motome to this new stranger but he has a surprise for them — he knew Motome and he recounts how he came to meet him.
And thus we enter the very lengthy second act, a stretch of the film that will test the patience of even the most diehard Miike fan. We flashback to the story of how Hanshiro and Motome met and know each other, revealing a deeper familial tie between the two and detailing the events that lead up to the latter deciding to risk ritual suicide. Almost playing a parody of overwrought Japanese melodramas, this flaccid portion of the film is wholly unengaging. It certainly doesn’t help that Ichikawa acts circles around Eita and Hikari Mitsushima (who plays Motome’s wife Miho) delivers soap opera level line readings with her facial expressions and reactions. But all of this might have been forgiven if Miike had given us something to look at, but with the 3D cameras, he only manages to enhance the most minor of set decoration details of this endlessly talky movie. The film could’ve been in 2D and spared us the pain of wearing the wretchedly uncomfortable glasses offered on the Croisette.
Ok, so the drama churns, the 3D effects are a non-starter so perhaps the climatic samurai battle is what Miike saved his energy for. Nope, wrong again. The director who has made a ballet out of guns, swords and blood in past films carries over his uninspired energy this time around to the closing set-piece in which Hanshiro takes on a house full of trained samurai. Except for one final little twist, the entire sequence is really just a bunch of guys pushing each other around for what seems to be a never-ending amount of time, and though Hanshiro’s final act does carry an undeniable amount of poignancy — again thanks to Ichikawa’s performance — that is better than this film deserves, it’s far too late for “Hara-Kiri,” that has dragged its heels right up until the final frame.
Miike has largely always been a hit or miss director with very few films that are simply uneven. The lineup for “Hara Kiri” began more than 90 minutes before the screening and there was certainly an air of excitement in the room that was quickly quieted by Miike’s lifeless stab (ha ha) at a costume drama and his bafflingly dry use of 3D. While the Miike core will track this one down regardless of what reviews say, for the rest of us who casually dip in and out of the man’s vast catalog, you might just want to pack a pass on “Hara-Kiri” and save yourself a couple of hours. [D+]
Here’s a totally spoiler heavy clip from the film that if you’re even mildly interested in seeing the movie you should avoid. It’s from the climax of the film which should you tell you something about how hard it is to find an interesting clip to sell this movie on.