On the 17th and 18th of July, the New Beverly Cinema had two samurai classics, HARAKIRI (1962) and SAMURAI REBELLION (1967), on their schedule. I initially wasn’t going to go to the New Beverly that month because there weren’t any Hong Kong movies, but these films still caught my eye. I finally decided to attend after learning about both films’ critical acclaim, and because I haven’t seen many Japanese films at the New Beverly before (besides the animated MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO (1988), which I saw in June). I also got excited when I found out that the director of both films, Masaki Kobayashi, also directed KWAIDAN (1964), and the screenwriter of both films, Shinobu Hashimoto, also wrote SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and RASHOMON (1950).
Before we went to the screening, I had lunch with my grandparents and I told them about the movies we were going to see. My grandpa then told me that he enjoyed HARAKIRI so much when it first came out in Japan in 1962, that he saw it twice, back-to-back. It was really cool to know and talk to someone about these movies who had seen them when they were originally released. HARAKIRI seemed to have left quite an impression on him.
When we got to the New Beverly Cinema, I went to go get some refreshments. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the snack bar at the New Beverly, but it really is something special. Besides the prices being reasonable (unlike most movie theater chains), they have a bunch of unique concessions. They serve White Castle Sliders and many different kinds of candies and sodas. When I went to see MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, they even had a bowl of complimentary Japanese candies.
Inside the auditorium, Japanese music from the 70’s/80’s was playing in the background. I was unfamiliar with the singers/songs, but it was still nice to hear while waiting to see the films. Before HARAKIRI started, a Chip and Dale Disney cartoon called THE LONE CHIPMUNKS (1954) played which was fun. The opening trailer reel consisted of films that were playing at the New Beverly later that month: NATIONAL VELVET (1944), GOD’S LITTLE ACRE (1958), and THUNDER ROAD (1958).
Disappointingly, there weren’t any Japanese movie trailers. I was hoping for a SHOGUN ASSASSIN (1980) trailer in particular. I love it when the New Beverly shows trailers for movies that are related to the movie that you’re about to see, but instead, they typically show trailers for films that are being shown later in the month. One time, when I went to see A FIST FULL OF TALONS (1983), I was hoping for some kung fu movie trailers, but instead I got a trailer for ZARDOZ (1974). But I digress.
Both film prints were remastered prints from Janus Films in Japanese with English subtitles. The first film of the evening was HARAKIRI. It tells the story of a samurai named Tsugumo Hanshiro (Tatsuya Nakadai) who goes to the Ii Clan’s palace in order to have somewhere honorable for him to commit harakiri (an informal way to say seppuku). The Ii Clan leader tells Hanshiro the tragic story of Chijiwa Motome (Akira Ishihama) who came to the Ii Clan earlier asking for a place to commit harakiri, but was only bluffing so he could get some money from the clan. Instead of getting the money and being sent on his way, Chijiwa was ultimately forced into committing harakiri. After hearing the story, Hanshiro assures the Ii Clan leader that he is there to commit harakiri and not to get money from them. As Hanshiro waits in the courtyard to commit harakiri, he tells the clan leader and his retainers the true story of why he came to the Ii Clan that day. And I’ll stop right there to prevent myself from spoiling the movie.
HARAKIRI is a horribly dark and miserable movie…and I loved it! There’s a lot of thick tension in the air throughout, leading to the reveal of Hanshiro’s true intentions for coming to the Ii Clan. The whole movie is very fascinating and intriguing, but it’s also unredeeming and punishing. Certain scenes almost feel like they came right out of a horror movie. It’s not an enjoyable movie per se (it’s hard to say that I enjoyed the horrific events in this movie), but it’s still really damn good. HARAKIRI has an excellent story, great characters, and beautiful cinematography. The final shot of the movie gave me chills.
The biggest audience reaction of the evening came from a scene in HARAKIRI. If you’ve seen the movie already, it should be no surprise that Chijiwa’s seppuku scene got some pretty gnarly reactions. Most of the audience was disgusted while others were in shock. Everything surrounding that scene, not just the seppuku itself, was just hard to watch. There’s a thick sense of dread as you watch it. It’s a scene that continually goes from bad to worse. My mom told me after the movie ended that she thought she was going to cry during that scene, not just because it’s sad but mostly because of how shocking it is. I felt the same way.
There was a brief intermission after HARAKIRI, followed by another trailer reel consisting of LAW AND DISORDER (1974), COPS AND ROBBERS (1973), and YOUNG DILLINGER (1965). SAMURAI REBELLION stars Toshiro Mifune as a samurai named Isaburo Sasahara. The daimyo orders Isaburo’s son, Yogoro (Go Kato), to marry one of the daimyo’s concubines, Ichi (Yoko Tsukasa). Though they reluctantly accept, the two gradually fall in love and give birth to a child named Tomi. Two years later, the daimyo’s heir dies and he orders Ichi to return. The family declines leading to Isaburo and Yogoro having to literally fight against them being separated.
Much like HARAKIRI, audience reactions during this film were mostly scarce. When the daimyo’s advisors raid and battle Isaburo and Yogoro at their residence, the more extreme moments got some reactions, but that’s mostly it. Overall, SAMURAI REBELLION is probably an inferior film to HARAKIRI, both visually and storywise. Unfortunately, I was kinda tired while watching SAMURAI REBELLION so I didn’t catch every plot point as I watched it. The moments that were told visually left an impact, while the dialogue-heavy scenes went by without me being fully alert. There’s not as much intrigue or excitement as in HARAKIRI (until the end of the film), but it’s still a great film with a very good story. The presence of Toshiro Mifune further strengthens the film. If given a rewatch while I’m more alert and awake, I definitely would’ve enjoyed the movie more.*
Once again, I had an amazing time going to the New Beverly. Seeing these films was a nice departure from my typical Hong Kong movie screenings. I say this every time, but I’m hoping for some more Asian cinema in the future. There’s an event coming up this month at the New Beverly, the Grindhouse Trailer Apocalypse Redux (and a secret bonus feature), which I’m interested in attending. I’m hoping that some martial arts movie trailers are shown, and that the bonus feature might be martial arts related in some way. Regardless, I hope to stop by the New Beverly again very soon.
* Editor’s Note: SAMURAI REBELLION is in my top 10 favorite chanbara films of all time. Though it’s not action-packed, the film’s characters benefit from an excellent script, and genuinely come alive on screen. The dialogue is exceptional, and everyone, Mifune-san most of all, delivers tremendously human performances. By the climax of the film I was filled with raw emotion and sitting on the edge of my seat, buzzing with anticipation of the story’s resolution. I was not disappointed.
As Ken intimated, this is not really a good film to watch while sleepy though! Here’s hoping that he (for a second time), and all of our SC36 readers check this classic out.
SAMURAI REBELLION and HARAKIRI are both available as Region 1 DVDs, and the later has also been released on Blu-ray, all courtesy of The Criterion Collection. – Kung Fu Bob
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