DVD of the Week – Samurai Rebellion (1967), Considered in Connection with Harakiri (1962)
by HELEN GEIB
Director Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion is a heartrending drama about a family destroyed by its clan. It is a companion piece to Kobayashi’s Harakiri (1962) and with that film, a devastating indictment of feudal Japan and samurai culture. Unlike Harakiri with its complex flashback structure, Rebellion is a traditional linear narrative. It does not allow its audience the luxury of emotional respite as it moves inexorably toward its tragic conclusion.
The family in Rebellion is the patriarch Sasahari Isaburo (Toshiro Mifune), his son Yogoro, Yogoro’s wife Ichi, and the young couple’s baby daughter. While the family structure is almost a mirror image of the family in Harakiri, the difference in their situation is significant. The family in the earlier film lost their place in the social hierarchy upon the dissolution of their clan. They fall victim to a callous society and the casual cruelty of a clan to outsiders. In contrast, the family in Rebellion is betrayed by its own clan when they refuse to accede to the leader’s morally unconscionable and legally indefensible demand that Ichi be given to him as his mistress.
Both films explode the myth of samurai honor, Harakiri with a story told from the perspective of the clan outsider and Rebellion from that of the insider.
Both films also provide pointed commentary on the status of women in samurai society. The father in Harakiri turned down an offer to give his daughter to a wealthy man as a concubine. Selling his daughter would have secured lifelong financial security and a respectable social position for them both, and his refusal is greeted with uncomprehending disgust by the intermediary.
Rebellion pushes the issue squarely to the forefront. Isaburo and Yogoro are the only members of the Sasahari extended family who object to the clan leader’s demand. The rest of the family, including Isaburo’s wife and younger son, are eager to comply in equal hope of currying favor and avoiding reprisal. Ichi’s wishes are consulted only after the men have proved obdurate in their refusals, and questions to her of what she wants are invariably accompanied by threats of the deadly consequences of refusal.
Samurai Rebellion is available on DVD from The Criterion Collection. Features include a new digital transfer and newly translated subtitles, an interview with Kobayashi, an essay by Japanese film historian Donald Richie, and the theatrical trailer.
New releases this week: Married Life, Outsourced, The Promotion, Then She Found Me