The Blu-ray Disc
Criterion presents Harakiri in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Picky viewers will want to note that Criterion appears to have cropped the image ever so slightly, resulting in minor pillarboxing on the left and right sides of the screen. There’s not much of a loss in image here, so it hardly seems worth getting worked up about. Otherwise, the transfer is superb, with an ever-present layer of film-like grain presiding over a detail-rich black-and-white image. Contrast is high, and may have been boosted a little, but the effect is not unpleasant, resulting in an extremely sharp image in all but a very few long shots. A few speckles find their way onto the screen, but the transfer is mostly quite clean.
Audio is presented in an uncompressed monaural track that’s free from any distractions of hiss or crackle and presents an adequately clear mix of dialogue, effects and music.
Criterion ports over everything from its 2005 DVD release of the film and upconverts it to HD. Japanese-film historian Donald Richie discusses some of the themes of the film in his spoiler-laden introduction (best watched after one has seen the film), and the other extras allow us to hear from the filmmakers. Kobayashi is interviewed by Masahiro Shinoda in an excerpt from a 1993 Directors Guild of Japan event, while Criterion presents exclusive interviews with star Nakadai and screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto.
The disc also includes the film’s original theatrical trailer. The package includes a booklet with an essay by scholar Joan Mellen and a reprint of a lengthy 1972 interview of Kobayashi that Mellen conducted.
The Bottom Line
Not your typical samurai film, but surely one of the best of the genre, Harakiri is an essential piece of Japanese cinema.