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Originally published Thursday, August 9, 2012 at 10:06 PM

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Takashi Miike's moving tale of 'Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai'

A movie review of "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai," directed by wildly prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike ("13 Assassins"). A portrait of good people in desperate circumstances, the film is remarkably sensitive and moving — the few scenes of bloodshed emotionally intense rather than showily sensational.

The New York Times

Movie review

'Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai,' with Ebizo Ichikawa, Eita, Hikari Mitsushima. Directed by Takashi Miike, from a screenplay by Kikumi Yamagishi, based on the story "Ibun Ronin Ki" by Yasuhiko Takiguchi. 126 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In Japanese, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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A movie called "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai" might lead you to expect an orgy of violence, especially since the director is Takashi Miike, a wildly prolific Japanese filmmaker best known for sanguinary delights like "Audition" and "13 Assassins." But "Hara-Kiri" finds Miike in a quiet, even classical frame of mind.

More moving than shocking, it proceeds slowly and gracefully, and the few scenes of bloodshed are emotionally intense rather than showily sensational.

Set in the early 1600s, the film evokes an august Japanese cinematic tradition. It seems to pay particular tribute to Masaki Kobayashi, director of "Samurai Rebellion" (1967) and an earlier "Harakiri" from 1962. Miike's movie is not precisely a remake, but it explores a similar premise.

The samurai Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa), cast adrift after the dissolution of the noble house he served, arrives at the estate of a feudal lord requesting permission to commit ritual suicide in the courtyard. The warriors of the estate suspect a "suicide bluff," an attempt to use the codes of honor and sacrifice to solicit employment or charity, and they treat Hanshiro to a cautionary tale (told in flashback) about a young man who had recently made a similar request.

Seen through the eyes of his tormentor, this young man, Motome (Eita), appears callow and foolish. But as we learn about his relationship with Hanshiro, a sadder, more delicate picture emerges. He was a gentle, scholarly soul, unsuited for the brutal world that eventually destroyed him. The long, lovely middle section is a melancholy drama involving the two men and Hanshiro's beloved daughter, Miho (Hikari Mitsushima), Motome's childhood friend and, later, his wife.

Court politics and bad luck plunge their household into hard times, and as a portrait of good people in desperate circumstances, "Hara-Kiri" is remarkably sensitive and moving.

Old-fashioned as it is, the film does make an important concession to the new, namely its embrace of 3-D. While the format sometimes creates an intriguing illusion of depth, the tinting of the glasses darkens images that are already shadowy. The clarity of the tale and the subtlety of the acting deserve better.

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