Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Miike's Harakiri

OK, there will be spoilers. If you haven’t seen Takashi Miike’s remake of Harakiri (2011) by now, but plan to and don’t want to know how he handles it, stop reading right now, because the big problem I have with the film is the ending.

If you’ve seen the original 1962 version by Masaki Kobayashi, you know that this is a gut-wrenching tale of misery, degradation, cruelty and revenge. It’s also the ultimate fuck you to the whole idea of the honorable samurai. Sure, the central protagonist is a samurai, but he’s a ronin; the establishment samurai of the Ii clan, with whom he comes into contact, are a bunch of sadistic goons. The worst is Omodaka (Tetsuro Tamba in the original), who famously forces a young ronin to commit seppuku with a bamboo blade. (I figured Miike would have a field day with this scene, and, sure enough, he goes way over the top with it — hard to watch).

Turns out the young guy with the bamboo sword was the protagonist’s son-in-law, and he was attempting a “suicide bluff” (threaten suicide and hope for a “don’t do it, kid” speech and a couple of coins for your trouble), trying to get some money for medicine for his consumptive wife and child. As I’ve said, it all goes horribly wrong, and his wife’s dad, Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai in the original), is out for revenge.

When the moment comes, he takes on the entire Ii clan, slicing and dicing a bunch of them before going down in a flurry of cold steel. However, in the Miike version, he pulls out his son-in-law’s other bamboo sword and just runs around wacking guys in the head, doing little damage. I don’t know why Miike opted for this change; perhaps he wanted Tsugumo to appear more Christ-like. He does wind up doing the I’m-nailed-right-in pose as he’s finally skewered. But to effectively de-claw him with the bamboo sword is to deny the visceral sense of catharsis demanded by the story. It is supremely dissatisfying to see our hero doing the one-against-many battle with a non-sword. Totally ruined if for me.

Otherwise, the film is well made, and faithful to the sombre tone of the original. However, whenever a bamboo sword enters the picture, be it the overly torture-porny forced seppuku or the lame ending, well, I gotta say Miike kinda screwed it up.

1 comment:

JV Fuentes said...

Well, I just re-watched the re-make, so to speak, and while I understand your complaint, I don't find it as off-putting as you do. Hanshiro's merciless beating of the Iyi clan with Motome's wooden sword, and eventual death, unarmed, at the hands of cowards is true to the feel of the original, in which the antagonists must finally resort to a store of rifles to subdue him. In this sense, and considering the fabulous scenery and cinematography, I felt that Miike did a marvelous job of honoring one of Japan's greatest masterpieces. Also, considering Miike's penchant for over the top CGI blood and gore, I was very relieved that he was able to tone it down for this film. That was really my biggest concern when I first heard that he was taking on this project, and although Motome's death was indeed hard to watch, I feel that considering how far we have seen him go in the past with 13 assassins, Ichi the Killer and others, he showed a respectfully light hand. All in all, I was happily surprised at the end result, which is more than I can say for 47 Ronin, Hollywood's blunt force trauma massacre of Chushingura. Compared to the ethereal beauty of Inagaki's version, 47 Ronin is a travesty that I wish I'd had the sense to avoid altogether.