Harakiri Blu-ray Review
Harakiri comes to UK Blu-ray with a 1080p resolution, encoded using the AVC codec and framed within a theatrically correct 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The disc itself is locked to Region B.
Eureka used the new master from Shochiku (as will be seen on the US Criterion release) and by their own admission have undertaken no further digital restoration or grain removal. When you see it in motion you can understand why, it is just about perfect as it is. Every department shows significant improvements from previous DVD releases and the print is remarkably clean and stable.
The opening shots are a great test, an intricate suit of armour, smoke billowing around it, then fading followed by a bright light to highlight the area and the ethereal transition. No banding, just gentle wafts of smoke against the complex layers of ceremonial armour. The contrast is reasonably strong but not overpowering, the blacks could be deeper, falling more in line with a well aged natural image; the important factor being the blacks haven't been excessively boosted and the white of the funeral robes that take Chijiiwa by surprise, or the mat on which he (and later Hanshiro) sits, don't bloom.
The delineation is absolutely spot on, the tiled edges of the rooftops so often prove a stumbling block for transfers but here they are handled, without exception, perfectly. Wider shots show the greatest benefit from the transition to full HD, with the frame now having a depth it had previously lacked – the courtyard scenes especially show this upgrade with the eye being drawn, via Yoshio Miyajima's exemplary cinematography, through the plethora of retainers to focus on Hanshiro and, pushing past him, to Kageyu Saito.
Fine detail is similarly impressive, the theatrical hairpiece used in such jidaigeki being now more apparent than ever, especially on Yazuku as he waits for the following Hanshiro to make his move. From perspiration to dry lips, everything in close-up is tangibly realised, and when moving slightly further back, the ornate patterns of the costumes stay crisp. If for any reason you start to doubt how well this print/transfer stands up, the final duel sequence should knock such silliness for six; everything from Hanshiro's dark, but visibly tattered clothing and his hair blowing in the wind, to the glorious cloud formations behind him and the dust swirling in the air stand up to scrutiny.
No disconcerting light fluctuation, a beautiful layer of fine grain and sharpness that is definitely a big step up from previous versions – there is little (if anything) to knock about this transfer unless you crave artificial boosting.
Just the one track – Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
The lossless track has little to do for large periods, being that Kobayashi's work relies often on pauses and silence to eke out the tension. There's minimal atmospheric effects until the final windy duel, but Nakadai's narration seems to benefit from the higher bitrate, taking on an even more forceful and imposing tone now, the timbre of which is rich and layered – if anything it may be too deep. Dialogue in general is handled well, though a couple of exchanges appear to hint at a slight imbalance still, but for material of this age a little give-and-take in terms of overall volume of speech is to be expected here and there.
Toru Takemitsu's score, and most notably the use of the biwa, gains a bit in terms of dynamism, and the strings are mellow but have more range and fade nicely. The high frequency of the clashing sounds are just as eerie as ever, but somehow sound less forced than they have on previous releases – still piercing but less unnecessarily heightened beyond the natural range.
As mentioned, the final reel and swordplay brings with it the main instance of atmospherics, the duel has the dust in the air and the breeze blowing - whistling through the speakers in a pleasingly rise-and-fall manner. The sound of steel slicing is incisive, but Kobayashi was never going for a stylised traditional angle to the figths. This is not a track for effects (who'd expect it from 2.0 mono?), but merely a clean (no crackle, sudden pops or background hiss to distract) and even offering.
A 28 page booklet which includes an interview with Kobayashi from the year following the film's release, as well a new essay about Harakiri by film critic Philip Kemp, alongside the usual array of picturesque rare production stills. Certainly worth a read.
Kobayashi Interview – 9:07
“Filmed for the Director's Guild of Japan on 14th October 1993 at the Haiyuza Theatre, Tokyo, this rare video interview with Masaki Kobayashi was conducted by fellow director Masahiro Shinoda (Assassination, Double Suicide, Silence)”. Short, but an invaluable chance to hear the director's own words regarding the film's reception at Cannes, the score and working with Miyajima as his cinematographer amongst other topics.
Original Japanese Trailer – 1080p – 3:09
A standard extra, but it's nice to see for the alternate shots used that were not seen in the film.
Self explanatory, but if you wanted a good example of the upgrade the Blu offers it's worth a spin.
Harakiri, even at nearly fifty years old, still manages to shock, not only in its key scene, a brutal and unflinching display of a supposed death with honour, but also in terms of the brooding and inevitably painful human drama. Masaki Kobayashi orchestrates a studied, methodical dissection of archaic, often contradictory values by balancing the sharp script, cinematography of Yoshio Miyajima, Toru Takemitsu's score and Tatsuya Nakadai's central performance, all to great effect.
The disc from Eureka features a new HD transfer from the film's owners Shochiku that raises the bar significantly from what we have seen before, with great depth and heightened detail. The lossless 2.0 track is all that it arguably could have been – clean and clear but limited by the material in terms of the “wow” factor some crave. The extras are a little light but between the booklet and featurettes you get two interviews with the director, which should be of interest to fans.
Harakiri has lost none of its edge, bringing together strands of a narrative that is quintessentially timeless in terms of tragedy, and weaving them around a backdrop of feudal values (some period, some not so) to be deconstructed and downright demolished.
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