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In January 2022, my favourite cinema ran a series of films that they gave the title Mythos Samurai (“The Samurai Myth”). We ended up seeing seven (how fitting!) out of eleven films, from Akira Kurosawa’s Shakespeare adaptation Throne of Blood via the Tarantino favourite Lady Snowblood to Hirokazu Kore-eda’s gentle anti-revenge film Hana – and, yes, Seven Samurai was also among the films shown. It was interesting to watch the films as different perspectives on the same motif: the samurai, the officer caste that protected the daimyo from the late 12th century to 1876. What was perhaps most interesting, however: how many of the films subverted the image of a noble warrior caste. The protagonists of these films were often ronin, masterless samurai who had lost their status, or samurai who doubted the tenets of their caste, and none of them presented a cool, badass ideal for easy consumption. The system that created the samurai was always presented in an ambivalent or downright negative light, even when the films clearly share a fascination with the aesthetics and iconography of the culture.
And that ambivalence towards the samurai, the feudal system they were a part of and the values they were meant to embody is represented best perhaps in Masaki Kobayashi’s Harakiri, a film that is grim and exhilarating, exciting and scathingly critical in equal parts.