Kobayashi. I’ve had the chance now to watch three of the four most highly touted films by Masaki Kobayashi– hardly exhaustive (painfully- I regret I haven’t been able to catch his 10-hour The Human Condition film yet). Still, his extremely impressive trio of films during the 1960’s is enough to land him on this list. Harakari is flat-out brilliant- and the main reason he’s on this list but there isn’t a massive drop-off with The Samurai Rebellion and Kwaidan. He’s certainly an auteur.  Kobayashi took full advantage of the frame – full canvas – the 2.35 : 1 ratio in either Tohoscope (Samurai Rebellion, Kwaidan) or Grandscope (Harakari).


Best film: Harakiri . A masterful work. Kobayashi would obstruct the frame (a forest here, fan in one example). The careful construction of the wide frame (magnificently used in the duel) is matched by the intricate design of the narrative- a pleasure to watch and study.

among the greatest images of Harakiri

from Harakiri as well- certainly prefers to shoot in medium long to long shots – stunning

total archiveable films: 3

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films:  0

top 100 films of the decade:  1 (Harikara)

The careful construction of the wide frame (magnificently used in the duel) here in Harakiri

most overrated:  Nothing here. Harakiri is #684 on the TSPDT and I’m a little higher on it- it just misses my top 500. The TSPDT consensus puts Kwaidan at #845 and that feels very close to the correct placement as well. Nothing else for Kobayashi in the top 2000.

most underrated :  Samurai Rebellion does not land in the TSPDT consensus top 2000 and this is, undoubtedly, a mistake or oversight.

  • It’s the 3rd archiveable (and very remarkable) film I’ve seen from Kobayashi—we have Harakiri in 1962 and Kwaidan in 1964
  • From the opening credits you know this is an artistic work—we have multiple shots of gorgeous architectural structures- straight lines (I believe of the Lord’s opulent house). The patterns almost like a Saul Bass credit sequence
  • Mifune is brilliant in the lead- he is so defeated (self admittedly “henpecked”) in the beginning- it’s a slow burn film and a slow burn performance for Mifune. He keeps it internal for the first 90 minutes (roughly ¾ of the film) as does Kobayashi with the violence. Mifune is bearing slowing worn down by the lords (higher classes), his wife, it’s almost like the Michael Douglas falling down “enough is enough” sort of thing
  • Again for the most part it’s a domestic film- not an action film until the final barrage
  • It’s a statement on classes. I guess Kobayashi was a conscientious objector in the Army (I believe during WW2 which is hard to imagine in Japan) so many of his films, this certainly, have the metaphor of defying unjust orders. It’s a personal battle here of the classes and what is right— insubordination
  • Not many- but early on there are some disorienting unintentional jump cut editing transitions
  • It’s intelligent and procedural—it’s going to challenge the patience of action fans—and the action, when we do finally get to it is realistic and matter of fact. It’s not romanticized—it’s as reluctant as the characters who really don’t want to fight
  • Haven’t placed it yet but there’s a reoccurring shot of the entrance of Mifune’s house I like
  • On both Ebert’s “great movies” collection and the criterion—probably a sign this is a pretty good film
  • Turning point in the narrative—90 minutes in he says “I’ve never felt more alive” as he makes a stand (and basically decides to die/fight)
  • One of the best segments in the film is a freeze frame montage during a flashback when Yoko Tsukasa (playing Ichi Sasahara) tells her husband a story. I wish the technique was repeated elsewhere.
  • Places like a western for sure—another samurai western though this is a deeper film closer to the Anthony Mann psychological westerns or some of the anti-hero hombre Martin Ritt-type—though this has a showdown at the end that has to make you think of Leone— it is a gorgeous final showdown (see pic)—the camera is active throughout the battle and we have some great angled shots. It also repeated a shot (film form) from the very opening when the two characters (then they were friends or co-workers at least) were testing weapons (Mifune is a weapons dealer basically)—there is such reverence and respect between these two reluctant warriors
  • It’s an ambitious final 20 minutes- very sad—well choreographed

it is a gorgeous final showdown in Samurai Rebellion


gem I want to spotlight :  Kwaidan. Wes Anderson or Tarkovsky-like design of the world (in fact one shot here looks like Stalker and the other The Fantastic Mr. Fox and this predates both of course). These are hand-painted sets—what masterful mise-en-scene— splendid dioramas.

Kwaidan. Wes Anderson or Tarkovsky-like design of the world (in fact one shot here looks like Stalker (above) and the other The Fantastic Mr. Fox (below) and this predates both of course.

These are hand-painted sets—what masterful mise-en-scene— splendid dioramas

stylistic innovations/traits:

  • Wide frames—2.35 : 1 – the Japanese equivalent of Cinemascope- 1960’s filmmaking separating from itself from television
  • Procedurals, structure very important to him – both in the frame and the narrative
  • The use of freeze-frame, obstructing the frame on occasion and creative use of angles

creative use of angles in Harakiri

  • Working in action/samurai and horror both
  • Long running times—Kwaidan is over 3 hours, and nothing that I’ve seen under 2 hours. I haven’t caught it yet but he has a 10 hour film The Human Condition
  • Meticulous set construction or location-scouting detail (and again- captured in full effect with the wide frame)

great museum-quality art photography in Harakiri– obstructing the frame — gorgeously designed


top 10


  1. Harakiri
  2. Samurai Rebellion
  3. Kwaidan


By year and grades

1962- Harakiri MS
1964- Kwaidan HR
1967- Samurai Rebellion MS



*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives