I had been looking forward to this movie for a while now and finally had the time to sit down and watch this film. I will say right now that I am a lover of samurai films! Although I don’t think I have watched a bad one yet, it could be due to my infatuation with their awesome swords (I’ve always wanted one) and the code that they live by, Bushido (call it a bias if you’d like).
Now, to the review! Overall, this movie was well told, well acted, and well shot. I will say the first 45 to 60 minutes were slow, the middle became more interesting, and the last 40 minutes were fantastic (yet deceptive at times as you were trying to figure out what was going on).
The premise of the movie: with wartime gone and the breakup of the Tokugawa Shogunate, peace has come to Japan and has put many Samurai out of work, most of who are living as impoverished ex-warriors. Our story begins with an individual who decides to end his life the honorable way, by performing harakiri (not harikari) at a clan house. Later, another ex-warrior, Hanshiro Tsugumo, our main character played by Tatsuya Nakadai (Yojimbo, Sanjuro), decides to do the same but, unfortunately, has to prolong his death because each of the men he requests to be his second are not in attendance (to cut his head off), and Hanshiro is then granted permission to tell his story as the house servants search for the men. After being granted permission and we are taken back in time through his memory to see his past unfold and what has caused him to end up in this clan house, kneeling on a mat prepared to perform harakiri.
That should be enough information so as to not spoil anything for you. I will now offer some analysis below which may or may not be considered a spoiler but, in my opinion, they are simply messages of the movie that do not reveal too many details about the story.
This movie, at least near the end, can be deduced to problems of empathy and social class structures. The samurai who remain in the upper class, because they still have work, fail to realize that they are human and, like all humans, have needs and responsibilities to fulfill even if it means breaking or bending our life’s code, bushido in this case. These Samurai who are listening to the “touching tale” can’t even understand the moral of the story from Hanshiro’s point of view. In their perspective, if people disobey their code and break a principle, they are seen as dishonorable and cowardly. Their pride prevents them from seeing reality. In my opinion, as well as Hanshiro’s, we can’t live justly if we can’t do what is right for oneself and one’s family. There will always be that one circumstance which causes you to deviate from your normal path in order to preserve the sanctity of one’s home and pride. Throughout the movie Hanshiro desperately tries to help these samurai understand this point.
As a film that I thoroughly enjoyed, Seppuku offers a very different take on the Samurai film category and exposes the struggles that ex-warriors might encounter when reduced to poverty and loss.
Rating: A calm, progressively engaging, and different samurai story