It’s 17th century Japan and peace-time hits hard for displaced ronin (rogue samurai) wandering throughout the landscape. When a scrappy ronin requests to commit suicide (hara kiri) in the domain of a prestigious lord, the stationed samurai believe he’s bluffing and force him to fulfill his request. When another warrior arrives with the same intent, it appears revenge is afoot. What sounds like the catalyst for blood curdling vengeance ends up feeling like someone handing you a katana to slice open your gullet.
In the wake of the action ecstasy of 13 Assassins, the words ‘director Takashi Miike’ and ‘samurai’ had me fist pumping with delight that he had more to explore with Japan’s rich history of warriors. HK:DOAS is not a glorious action epic, it’s a profound struggle for survival faced with illness and poverty. Miike relishes in the pain of the central family, united in death, ill-equipped for the capitalist grind in an economy reliant on the whims of a spiteful Shogun. You’re subjected to the minutiae of the struggle of rural life; whether it’s the service of very modest meals, repairing the paper plaster on their house, or idly fishing at the lake, or even bartering their prized possessions for money to buy food.
The ensemble doesn’t bring anything particularly memorable in their universally restrained delivery. The two main characters Kageyu (Kôji Yakusho) and his son-in-law Hikokuro (Munetaka Aoki) are the same stoic samurai, priding themselves on inner strength and control riddled in all the inferior incarnations of the genre. While Tajiri (Naoto Takenaka) fulfills a geisha-esque passive presence that makes for a respectful interaction devoid of anything to invest in.
Miike presents picturesque and beautifully composed shots of slices of rich Japanese culture in the same way that he frames someone gutting themself. The 3D is beyond redundant. Other than focus for the full depth of field and making the subtitle’s POP, there’s literally nothing in the 3D cinematography whatsoever that adds to the experience of the film.
HK:DOAS is a beautifully artistic, yet unflinching revenge film; distorted by unnecessary 3D and 45 minutes of additional runtime. And for a revenge film, the three whole minutes of badass Samurai action is not worth the laborious, melodramatic and altogether depressing demise of this poor family.
and a half