Poverty of a samurai – Christopher Meeks

The film Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai is a remake of an earlier Japanese film, now filmed in 3D. The film follows a disenfranchised samurai family that falls into poverty. The film illustrates the stark contrast in life styles between samurai class members and townsfolk, without class distinction. When the father, Hanshiro, and son-in-law, Motome, of the samurai family become completely destitute, they offer their lives to a noble in ritual suicide, with Motome being first, and Hanshiro, last. Motome in having heard of the “suicide bluff” decides to try in front of a powerful lord in hopes of being paid off to avoid the bloodshed on the noble’s property He desperately needs money for a doctor for the illnesses striking his family due to their malnourished state.

Although there are distinct class differences between those who are samurai, and those who are not, poverty is shown through one particular sequence to ignore class differences. The scene follows Motome through town while he is grocery shopping. After purchasing a handful of eggs, he is bumped into by a group of children, who differ from him in not only class, but age. The children, expecting his admonishment, wait, then realize the sad state of the fallen samurai and walk away, leaving Motome to contemplate his own pitiful existence. The scene concludes with him disregarding his own nobility and dropping to his hands and knees to slurp up the broken eggs on the ground like a dog.

In another sequence the importance of food is shown when Motome’s body is delivered after his suicide bluff was called and he was forced to commit ritual suicide in possibly one of the bloodiest suicide sequences in film. Motome’s wife, Miho, searches Motome’s body for some clues as to his death. She finds the bean cake that she prepared for him in his breast pocket along with three ryo, the gold coins that Motome begged for in his bluff attempt . Miho discards the coins, and instead, she then breaks the cake into three pieces. Just prior to this sequence, the family’s dire situation had already reached a climax, in which not only Miho had become terribly ill, but also their infant child had succumbed to disease and died. Despite having the money she desperately needs to get treatment for herself, the money is meaningless without her family. Now, Miho takes the cake and places one piece into the mouths of both dead family members and then finally  hers. At this point, she takes the broken sword used by her husband to commit suicide and then uses it on herself to the same effect.

Food is equated with survival and although money is needed for food and medical care, it is really the food that the family desires. Motome sells both his katana, the symbols reaffirming  his class distinction in order to raise money. By the end of the film, basic human needs are shown to triumph over class distinctions even at the cost of this family.


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