The Red Armor

The film begins with the arrival of a samurai Hanshiro Tsugumo, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, at the estate of the Iyi Clan asking to be allowed to use the grounds to commit harakiri. They tell him that’s fine, but first he should hear about what happened to the last samurai who made such a request. His name was Motome Chijiiwa and he wasn’t really looking to commit harakiri, he was hoping that they would give him some money instead. You see, many samurai ended up masterless and poor each time Tokugawa picked off a local lord back in the early 1600’s when this film takes place. Unfortunately, they grant his request for harakiri and insist that he go through with it despite his plea for a few days respite and despite the fact that he only has bamboo swords that could barely hurt anyone. This entails disembowelment with a short sword before being beheaded by another man. Since the sword is bamboo he not only has to stab numerous times, but has to fall on it in order to get it to really penetrate.

That sequence is the centerpiece of the film. However, it comes within the first 30 minutes of the film that is a little over two hours long. The rest of the film uses a rather annoying plot device. Tsugumo tells them that he still wants to go through with harakiri, they are all prepared for it, when Tsugumo pulls the same crap as the assassin in Yimou Zhang’s Hero. He asks if they can listen to his long winded tale first before he goes through with it. Thus begins about 100 minutes of flashbacks detailing his story and his connection to the first samurai Chijiwa ultimately leading to a confession that he is there to seek revenge for what happened to Chijiwa. He also makes his point that samurai honor is just a facade and that the Iyi clan is a prime example. The Red Armor pictured at the top is worshiped by these samurai, but it has no wearer and is nothing more than a facade, just like samurai honor.

Director Masaki Kobayashi uses an eerie soundtrack and often approaches his characters from angles and zooms. It’s a powerful film, but the plot device is so antiquated and bothersome that I can only recommend it.