Set in 17th-century Japan, director Makaki Kobayahi's HARAKIRI stars Tatsuya Nakadai (RAN) as masterless samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo. Structured in a series of flashbacks, the film opens in a period of serenity that has brought about a consolidation of power in Japan, resulting in the release of many samurai from their feudal obligations. These men--Hanshiro included--are in desperate straits, struggling to avoid poverty and starvation. According to their code, they must appear at clan estates and offer to commit seppuku, or ritual disembowelment, and often the clan retainer will offer them work or alms. When Hanshiro arrives at such an estate, the chief retainer Kageyu Saito (Rentaro Mikuni) tells him a cautionary tale about the fate of samurai Motome Chijiiwa (Akira Ishihama), who was forced to commit seppuku with a dull bamboo sword as punishment for dishonoring the samurai code. Hanshiro requests that the clan's three best swordsmen act as his seconds for his act of seppuku, but they are nowhere to be found. He then reveals himself as the father-in-law of the tragic Motome and begins to exact his revenge. Arguably Kobayashi's masterpiece, this savage attack on the hypocrisy, cowardice, cruelty, and ultimate emptiness of the institution of the samurai warrior features one of Nakadai's greatest performances as the disturbingly intense swordsman.
Masaki Kobayahi's violent masterpiece exposes the harsh 17th-century samurai code of honor, which involves the agonizing suicide ritual of harakiri.