Harakiri (Seppuku) is a Japanese feature film that was released into theaters in 1962. It was directed by Masaki Kobayashi and is set in Japan’s Edo period. It was a time of samurai’s and wars; a time when leaders and leadership roles changed quickly. Harakiri was entered into the Cannes Film Festival in 1963 and managed to win the Special Jury Award. Harakiri is also called Seppuku. In Japanese culture, seppuku is a form of ritual suicide. It generally consists of the person thrusting a sword through their own belly. The samurai warriors upheld a code to commit seppuku if they were ever in danger of being captured by enemy forces, or if their lords told them to. It was also common for a warrior to commit seppuku when he disgraced his lord or clan.
Harakiri begins with Tsugumo Hanshiro. Hanshiro is a master-less samurai who has wandered to the Ii clan. He tells the lord that he wants to commit seppuku. At that time, hundreds of samurais were cast out of their master’s homes because of the change in politics. Many of them would arrive at a new master’s home and ask to commit seppuku, when they really wanted to receive money instead.
The head of the Il clan, Saito Kageyu, tells a story to Hanshiro about another samurai named Chijiiwa Motome. A few months before Hanshiro came to their gates, Motome did. He too asked to commit seppuku and the villagers decided that they had enough of wandering samurais and made him follow-through with the suicide.
Hanshiro then tells his own story. He relates that he lived in poverty in order to raise his daughter, Miho, and his deceased friend’s son, Chijiiwa Motome, the same man that was made to commit suicide a few months before Hanshiro arrived at the gate. Miho and Motome eventually grow up and fall in love. Together they have a son named Kingo. Sickness suddenly strikes the village that they live in and both Miho and Kingo get sick. Motome has no many to pay for a doctor and heads out, trying to find somebody to offer him work. Unfortunately he finds nothing. As a last ditch effort, Motome goes to the Il family and asks to commit seppuku, hoping that the clan will give him enough money to be able to pay for a doctor to treat his family. Instead of paying him, though, the clan makes him follow through with his threat to commit seppuku.
Hanshiro realizes that he is partially to blame for Motome’s death. He could have sold his sword, but he chose not to. He goes to the Il family and duels the three people whom he believes to be responsible for making Motome commit seppuku. Instead of killing them, however, he dishonors them by cutting off their topknots. Hanshiro eventually ends up battling most of the Il clan, but commits seppuku right before the Il family attacks him with their guns.