Ebizo Ichikawa in "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai." (Courtesy of Tribeca Film )
The prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike is arguably one of the world's most deeply eccentric and unpredictable filmmakers — titles such as "Audition" and "Ichi the Killer" are now classics of international genre for their gleeful disregard of convention and expectations.
With his latest, "Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai," a remake of a 1962 film, Miike brings a formal, elegant restraint to his usual flair for wild theatrics.
Told in layered flashbacks, the film examines the ancient feudal system via a practice where a down-on-his-luck warrior may ask to perform ritual sacrifice in the home of a lord. The better the house, the greater the honor of the death.
A man, Hanshiro (Ebizo Ichikawa), making such a request is regaled with the story of another man (Eita) who made such a claim as a ruse for begging money and was forced to a cruel and humiliating death. Then Hanshiro tells a story of his own.
The slow-burn of Miike's previous film "13 Assassins," also a remake, built to an extended battle that may be one of the great sustained action sequences of recent years. "Hara-Kiri" builds and builds as well, but its revelations are more character-derived that action-oriented, so the film never reaches the cattle-on-fire craziness of its predecessor.
Shooting in 3-D, Miike uses the technique to create deep spatial relations, frames within frames or a delicate lacework of falling snow, rather than the spurting blood and thrusting blades one might expect.
"Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai." No MPAA rating; in Japanese with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.