The Metaphorical Nature of Harakiri Essay

The Metaphorical Nature of Harakiri Essay

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Through a plethora of odd cinematic choices, it seems that Harakiri serves as a metaphor for the American-Japanese conflict in World War II. The film contains multiple elements that demonstrate this connection quite clearly but others are slightly more tenuous. The critical elements that piece this metaphor together are the original situation leading to the death of Motome Chijiiwa, the final fight between House Iyi and Tsugumo Hanshiro, and the end of Tsugumo Hanshiro in conjunction with the conclusion. The director, Masaki Kobayashi, has also inserted minute elements that give this argument a slightly more solid backbone.
Chijiiwa is of the warrior class, educated, and desperate for survival. He serves as a guardian in a time when no guardians are actually needed. He is then forced to provide for a new generation which he is unable to do without some form of outside resources—he has nothing left to pawn. He and his family are not in any way self-sufficient due to the vicissitudes of post-war life. He goes to a non-dissolved house to attempt to beggar a few alms through threatening hara-kiri so that he might heal his progeny. The House Iye views this as setting a precedent for future ronin to prey upon their lack of resolve. The House discovers that his swords are wooden—his threat of self-destruction false. Yet, they force him to go through with his threats using the wooden weapons.
If one strips the story to its generalities rather than specifics, it is easy to relate this to World War II through the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent actions. Japan had relatively recently entered onto the world stage and faced issues that plagued other youthful nations. Japan required expansion to feed its growing populace. The easies...


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...rpretation of the film, the ideals of the Hagakure are not fulfilled by either side. Hanshiro bides his time for total revenge instead of striking while the iron is hot. He also lectures elders and those of superior rank on morality and also does not come out directly to state his complaint. The House Iye retainers are not honest about the loss of their topknots. The head of House Iye destroys the true history of the conflict which shows a lack of dependability. Neither side adheres to the ideals of the Hagakure, but even then, it seems conflicting to apply an idealized code to an almost Hegelian tragedy in which neither side could escape unscathed.



Works Cited

Harakiri, DVD. Directed by Masaki Kobayashi. 1962, Kyoto, Japan: Criterion, 2005.
Yamamoto,Tsunetomo. Hagakure. 3 ed. William S. Wilson. Tokyo, Japan: Kodansha International, 2002, 35-36, 38, 77, 87.

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