CANNES REVIEW: Miike's 3-D Hara-Kiri Takes Its Sweet Time Dying a Very Slow Death

Werner Herzog. Wim Wenders. Animator Michel Ocelot: Everybody's jumping on the 3-D bandwagon these days, whether they have ideas that are well-suited to the medium or not. Takashi Miike adds his voice to the multi-tracked chorus with Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, a 3-D melodrama showing in competition here at the festival.

But would Hara-Kiri have a reason to exist at all if it weren't in 3-D? That's the question many of my colleagues and I were asking after the screening Wednesday night. Hara-Kiri is a remake of Masaki Kobayashi's 1962 film Harakiri, and the story, as Miike tells it, has some emotional resonance once you get into its groove. It involves not just your garden-variety ritual suicide, but one in which an impoverished ronin (played by Eita) must do the deed with a bamboo sword. The disembowelment takes forever, and Miike has no qualms about prolonging it -- in murky, if excruciating, 3-D detail -- as a sadistic onlooker urges, "Push it in! Twist it around!" Another impoverished Samurai (played by Ebizo Ichikawa) will exact revenge for this cruelty, but Miike lets the pace drag a bit too much when it comes to getting the story told.

It's not that Hara-Kiri is so badly made. And it's interesting to see 3-D technology applied to a slow story for once, rather than an action movie. Plus, Miike uses 3-D for a few great effects: A wooden phoenix carving pops out in vivid detail; some pretty snowflakes fall ve-e-e-rry slowly, drifting down quietly at crucial dramatic moments. But mostly, the murkiness of the 3-D images work against Miike. Having to work so hard to process the visuals just throws you out of the story.

Miike is really pumping them out these days: His marvelously entertaining 13 Assassins opened very recently in the United States after making its debut in Venice last summer. Perhaps he's spreading his ideas too thin. Streamlined a bit, Hara-Kiri could have made a perfectly acceptable 2-D drama; instead, it's a heavy-handed novelty that's a trial to watch -- a bit like committing ritual suicide with a weapon that just isn't sharp enough.

Read more of Stephanie Zacharek's coverage of Cannes 2011 here.