Two Girl Warriors in Hara-Kiri

[a.k.a. Bijo kenshi: futari seppuku]
Star: Hiromi Saotome, Yuuri Sunohara

[14] Even as Japanese films go, this is very strange. The title says it all: a pair of nameless female samurai, leaving the scene of a battle, commit ritual suicide. There is no significant dialogue and the action, such as it is, happens in real-time, making the 42 minutes duration seem several times longer. I really don't know why I like this film so much. It gives the impression of being a chunk taken from the middle of some great Kurosawa epic, leaving the viewer to fill in the blanks. Who are the characters? Are they related to each other? Why were they in battle? How did they get injured? And, even though the only two characters in the film are dead by the end, you feel there must be something more. Maybe a relative finds the body and seeks revenge? The film, perhaps wisely, doesn't try to answer these questions, leaving them instead for the viewer's imagination.

The film is as much concerned with the 'ritual' as the 'suicide', every detail of the preparations, mental and physical, is carefully depicted with near-fetishistic precision. This takes up a significant part of the running time, but gives an added punch to the actual suicide, when it eventually starts. Which is when it becomes difficult to watch, especially for a Western consumer used to movies where death is quick, simple and - crucially - painless. None of this is true in Two Girl Warriors. The second half of the film relentlessly shows the slow and painful process involved in the reality of death, as first one girl, then the other, commits seppuku.

Despite the lack of dialogue, the warriors are substantially more than ciphers, or models for splatter and gore (those expecting a Guinea Pig style atrocity exhibition will be disappointed - the special effects are competent, but really don't seem to be the point). One is hesistant, and unwilling to do 'the right thing', the other has a fatalistic stance. In less than 45 minutes, the characters are better developed than many Hollywood movies manage. This is one in a series of films: while all are undeniably odd, the others tend to a certain sameness; there are only a limited number of ways one can show a girl slitting her stomach open. But the dramatic tension 'Two Girl Warriors' generates, lifts it above the rest, and propels it alongside the likes of Videodrome and Miracle Mile for it's relentless depiction of death. But while those two films almost make death appealing, as an escape, Two Girl Warriors In Harakiri suggests that it may be far worse than you expect.

[2008 update: in a somewhat surprising turn, and some 15 years after I wrote the above, the entire six-film Harakiri series is scheduled to be released by Unearthed Films...]

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