HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI "I have a bad feeling about this."

BEING UNEMPLOYED SUCKS. You're poor, you're hungry, and you hate yourself. It's enough to drive one to suicide. Or at least the threat of suicide.

Takashi Miike's Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai is a remake of the 1962 classic Harakiri, and it's a tense portrait of near-suicidal desperation. In the 1600s, unemployed samurai would solicit money or jobs by performing suicide bluffs—they'd show up at a castle and ask the lord for the honor of committing ritual suicide in the courtyard. The lord, not wanting a scene on his hands, would either offer the samurai money or a job so as to not have his yard suddenly sullied with fresh, hand-sliced ronin.

Hara-Kiri is at its best when it resembles a game of chicken: Two desperate samurai bluff about how they wish to kill themselves, but then a noble house actually accepts their offer. When the movie is about who's going to blink first, it succeeds wonderfully. (A tense scene involving a certain bamboo object is reminiscent of Miike's horrifying exercise in intimate pain, Audition.) While the middle section drags (it's a flashback that fleshes out the motivations of the two main characters, and it boils down to "they're poor and desperate"), the ending is such an effective gut-punch that it makes up for the bloated middle.

One unavoidable problem with the movie, though, is the 3D: It's distracting and wholly unnecessary, and several times throughout the film I took the dark glasses off so I could see the vibrant colors and beautiful sets better, albeit with a slight blur. If you're going to see samurai play chicken, see them do it in 2D.