Harakiri (1919, Fritz Lang)

Watched as part of the Auteur Completism Project, in which I plan to watch the last remaining movies by some directors whose work I’d almost entirely seen. Lang was a big one. I previously claimed victory with The Return of Frank James because I couldn’t find Human Desire, then again with Human Desire because I couldn’t find Harakiri, and now I’ve found Harakiri along with two other long-missing silents. Joy!

My favorite shot: at right is the Bonze’s comic assistant

“You have lost your faith in Buddha in those foreign lands. Fear his wrath!” Buddha has wrath? A monk known as The Bonze (Georg John, who played the blind beggar who identifies the killer in M) has a crush on Lil Dagover (of Tartuffe, Destiny, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), orders her dad the Daimyo to have her become a priestess so he could get closer to her. But the dad refuses, and is disgraced, made to commit harakiri. It’s all based on the story Madame Butterfly, but I don’t remember this part from the David Cronenberg version. The story had already been filmed a few years earlier in the USA with Mary Pickford in the lead.

Lil, looking not very Japanese, under a tree with Olaf:

It’s clear that all the “Japanese” people in this movie are really Germans plus whatever dark-skinned or foreign-looking people they could scrape up, wearing bald caps, samurai wigs and robes (if Japan had watched this movie they never would have allied with Germany in WWII), but anyway, a “European” comes over the wall of the forbidden forest and starts putting his hands all over Lil, so now she’s only got eyes for this guy, which further infuriates the monk, who imprisons her before sending her away to a teahouse to become a geisha. But the Euro Man keeps visiting her, agrees to “marry” her for 999 days, and she becomes pregnant just as he leaves the county, promising to return soon.

Lil shares her feelings for Olaf with their son:

Olaf shares his feelings for Lil with the camera:

After four years, she’s supposedly no longer married so the monk comes after her, and coincidentally Olaf the euro man (Niels Prien: was in a Paul Leni movie the same year and practically nothing else) returns to Japan on assignment, now married to another European and not caring a bit about this Japanese woman. Meanwhile a prince (Meinhart Maur, later of Tales of Hoffmann) is in town, sees the girl and is smitten with her but she claims loyalty to her son’s father and won’t give up until he returns. Her friend Hanake finds out Olaf is actually in town, and goes to plead with him (in front of his wife) to come see his “wife” and son. The prince sends the monk away, and Lil can’t take the pain any longer, takes her father’s sacred knife and does herself in just as Olaf arrives – now this German guy who was a total shit gets their baby, which I don’t see as a happy ending.

Very nice piano and violin music by Aljoscha Zimmermann. Much of the same cast as Lang’s The Spiders from the same year, which I barely remember, and the only other 1919 feature I’ve seen (same year as Broken Blossoms, The Oyster Princess, and Blind Husbands). The biggest star besides Lil turned out to be the “little boy”, actually a girl who would appear in Joyless Street, The Golem and a Joe May movie before retiring from movies at age 13. It’s said that Breathless invented the jump cut, but this movie is just full of them. I think a malicious editor in the sound era must have wanted to shorten the runtime and took out frames at random.

Related posts