CANNES CHECK: ‘Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai’

Posted by · 3:14 pm · May 7th, 2011

The director: Takashi Miike (Japan)

The talent: Leading man Ebizô Ichikawa is a well-regarded Kabuki actor with a short screen résumé. International audiences are likelier to recognize his more senior co-star, Kôji Yakusho (“Shall We Dance,” “Babel”), who worked with Miike on the recent “13 Assassins” (currently in US theaters, reviewed here). Also returning from Miike’s last samurai epic is Oscar-winning producer Jeremy Thomas (“The Last Emperor”). He’s not the only Oscar-winning “Emperor” alumnus here: revered composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is on board. Finally, a note for trivia buffs: costume designer Kazuko Kurosawa is Akira’s daughter, so I’m guessing she knows her samurai.

The pitch: After this year’s Berlinale effectively sanctioned the union of 3D and the arthouse, Cannes is following suit: Miike’s latest is the first 3D film to play in Competition. That gimmick aside, “Hara-Kiri” sounds classical enough. Based on a Yasuhiko Takiguchi novel that was previously filmed in 1962, the film centers on a failed samurai whose request to commit ritual suicide is dismissed by his commander — the starting point for a tangle of backstories leading to (what else?) “a tense showdown of vengeance.”

The dense detailing of samurai politics in “13 Assassins” is merely foreplay for a spectacular, bloody all-action finale, and “Hara-Kiri” seems likely to follow the same structure — just with severed limbs flying straight at the audience this time.

The pedigree: Miike is so bewilderingly prolific that it comes as something of a surprise to learn he’s never been in Competition at Cannes before. He’s nonetheless one of the most established brands in the lineup, while the surprise critical success of “13 Assassins” at Venice last September — coming after a run of films that didn’t really cross over — raised his stock considerably.

The buzz: With Miike in the unusual position of premiering his new film just as the last one hits theaters in the US and the UK — and taking into account that the new film sounds rather a lot like the last one — it’s hard to separate the buzz for the two. That’s no bad thing: critics still fresh off the high of “13 Assassins” will walk into “Hara-Kiri” more pumped than they would have been otherwise. Still, the situation also poses potential for a swift backlash: some will want Miike to make the same film again, others will be quick to accuse him of laziness if he does so. Similarly, the addition of 3D to the formula could be an asset or a hurdle. If well-integrated, it could enhance otherwise familiar virtues; if not, it’ll give jaded critics something else to complain about. Either way, it’s one of the Competition’s most commercially viable entries.

The odds: Even if it goes down as a crowd-pleaser, it seems unlikely the jury will go out of its way to reward a genre effort, and a remake at that, that doesn’t appear to be stretching the boundaries of either its director or the genre in question. (It’s worth noting that, even with a jury president as Miike-friendly as Quentin Tarantino, “13 Assassins” left Venice empty-handed.) If the film is a particularly fine demonstration of his craft, some kind of disguised career award (Best Director, say) for Miike is conceivable, but this seems more an audience-targeted selection.


→ 8 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Daily

8 responses so far

  • 1 5-07-2011 at 5:13 pm

    Nick Davis said...

    You keep knocking every single one of these Cannes Check reports out of the park. Just saying. As payback, you ought to be at least on the Un Certain Regard jury next year.

  • 2 5-07-2011 at 6:12 pm

    Michael said...

    I totally second Nick Davis’s comment. If I had the power to bestow you an honorary white pass at Cannes I would totally do so.

    I just saw 13 Assassins a few weeks ago and it is currently in the top 5 of my favorite films I’ve seen so far this year. I don’t necessarily think it is a bad thing for Miike to continue with another Samurai film back to back (after all, Kurosawa didn’t do so bad sticking within that genre for as many films as he did.) This is one of those films that the critics would have to literally destroy with bad reviews for me to not want to at least see it, b/c I know at the very least it will be good bloody fun. I don’t think a single award is at all likely to happen, but good for Miike to have the honor to be included in the main competition like this. He has definitely earned it in my mind.

  • 3 5-07-2011 at 8:03 pm

    GlenH said...

    Kazuko Kurosawa’s parentage was such a neat little factoid that I went over to her imdb page to see what else she had done. Turns out she’s worked on quite a few recent samurai pictures: Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade, Hana and Kitano’s Zatoichi. I bet she spent a lot of time on her father’s sets while growing up.

  • 4 5-07-2011 at 10:01 pm

    Maxim said...

    Takashi Miike is a very technically proficient and, on occasion, inventive director, who is almost entirely devoid of taste and ethics.

    Pretty much the only thing that is keeping him from greatness (at least perceived greatness) is inability to draw the line and actually stand for something. I have seen a fair number of his films over the years and he is one of those guys who will make a movie on any practically any subject without ever revealing anything trully deep about themselves (apart from the fact that despite the fact that he dips in moralit is both shallow and mostly there to exploit).

    Terry Gilliam, Tarantino and Danny Boyle all have variations of the same problem.

  • 5 5-08-2011 at 12:58 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Nick and Michael: Thank you! I’m thrilled that so many people are enjoying what essentially amounts to me doing my homework in public.

  • 6 5-08-2011 at 6:16 am

    Brady said...

    You’re just doing our homework for us. Are you going to spotlight any of the Un Certain Regard films like Restless at all? My 2nd most anticipated movie (after The Tree of Life, duh) is Arirang. I just watched Spring, Summer, Fall (etc.) and I can’t wait to catch this one on the Croisette.

  • 7 5-08-2011 at 8:47 am

    Michael said...

    ^@ Brady – have you ever seen 3 Iron or Time by Ki-duk Kim? Those films, along with Spring Summer Fall(etc.) are my favorites from him. I am really curious to know how Arirang turns out, that teaser trailer was definitely very odd…

  • 8 5-08-2011 at 4:09 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Brady: I hope to have time to do a quick overview of the Un Certain Regard section — there’s certainly some exciting stuff in there. That said, I’ve already seen Restless, so previewing it would be a little disingenuous on my part.