Harakiri Squad


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Harakiri Squad
"The film utililses typical Japanese broad humour and a lot of innuendo, but for the most part it manages to keep up the pace and maintain an element of tension." | Photo: Fantaspoa

One can understand why, when American comic book villains strike a pose and pretend they invented suicide mission chic, Japan might be tempted to say “Hold my beer.”

Ryosuke Kanasaki’s lively action comedy, which screened at Fantaspoa 2024, does not have much of a budget. It does not have big name stars or flashy special effects. What it does have is a wild story, fabulous costumes, nifty fight sequences and poptastic song and dance numbers which just might save the world – all positioned within the context of Edo period values. At one point, an abashed shogun with an urgent message to deliver drily declares “Although it brings shame to my family, I have to sing now.”

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Although this is a world in which samurai are wandering around, one does not need to have committed mass murder in order to make a name for oneself. Our heroes are famous as thieves. This isn’t entirely believable because most of them are such pretty bishonen that anyone who saw them would remember them, and they would be watched wherever they went; they’re also pretty bad actors (as characters), but as it turns out that’s okay, because the people of the village where they’re currently operating are not going to win any prizes for their intellect. in the course of this particular scam they rope in a newcomer, shy outsider Heima, but what they don’t realise is that Heima has a past which will complicate their own future.

Before the arrival of the youth, the squad has four members, each with a fish-themed name (not all of which translate). There’s Fishpocket, the leader, whose talent lies in picking pockets but who likes to be the centre of attention at all other times; Suicide Squid, who hides loot and has a penchant for torture (generating the film’s darkest humour); Doctor Poison, the older and slightly wiser one; and Geishafish, a genderfluid disguise expert. All of them can fight in addition to their other skills, but they’re not exactly top of the league and usually have to play second fiddle to the older and more competent Fox Squad. Things get personal, however, when Fishpocket realises that he’s seen the man they have been sent to investigate before – and that man has Heima’s sister in his power.

There are quite a few jokes here which rely on familiarity with Japanese myths and cultural traditions, but plenty more that are universal. The film is coy in the manner of many recent manga and TV series but has a distinctly queer sensibility and a fair bit of flirting under the guise of brotherly feeling, even if the only openly gay character is rather hard done by. The principle antagonist, a demon who can steal souls with a kiss, introduces an additional element of sensuality, but he is scheming to do damage on a far larger scale and for once it is Harakiri Squad who are best placed to save the day.

Not quite camp in the Western sense, the film utililses typical Japanese broad humour and a lot of innuendo, but for the most part it manages to keep up the pace and maintain an element of tension, so if this isn’t your thing then you won’t have long to wait for more action. The fighting mostly takes place in groups and is quite chaotic, but there are still some moves deserving of admiration. Everything is done onscreen, invoking no wuxia-style computer assisted special powers, and in one scene there’s a nice joke at the expense of the familiar slow motion balcony jump. Overall, it’s a film that fans of Japanese action and comedy films will get more out of, but it has enough substance to be fun regardless.

Reviewed on: 18 Apr 2024
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A group of thieves is recruited for a dangerous mission which turns out to have a personal twist.

Director: Ryosuke Kanesaki

Year: 2024

Country: Japan


Fantaspoa 2024

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