Through a plethora of odd cinematic choices, it seems that Harakiri serves as a metaphor for the American-Japanese conflict in World War II. The film contains multiple elements that demonstrate this connection quite clearly but others are slightly more tenuous. The critical elements that piece this metaphor together are the original situation leading to the death of Motome Chijiiwa, the final fight between House Iyi and Tsugumo Hanshiro, and the end of Tsugumo Hanshiro in conjunction with the conclusion. The director, Masaki Kobayashi, has also inserted minute elements that give this argument a slightly more solid backbone.
Chijiiwa is of the warrior class, educated, and desperate for survival. He serves as a guardian in a time when no guardians are actually needed. He is then forced to provide for a new generation which he is unable to do without some form of outside resources—he has nothing left to pawn. He and his family are not in any way self-sufficient due to the vicissitudes of post-war life. He goes to a non-dissolved house to attempt to beggar a few alms through threatening hara-kiri so that he might heal his progeny. The House Iye views this as setting a precedent for future ronin to prey upon their lack of resolve. The House discovers that his swords are wooden—his threat of self-destruction false. Yet, they force him to go through with his threats using the wooden weapons.
If one strips the story to its generalities rather than specifics, it is easy to relate this to World War II through the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent actions. Japan had relatively recently entered onto the world stage and faced issues that plagued other youthful nations. Japan required expansion to feed its growing populace. The easiest way, or rather the most common way, to that end came through an imperialistic foreign policy. The world had already been partitioned prior to their adoption of Western market models. Japan could not rely upon foreign markets for either the importation or exportation of commodities. When the Japanese military formulated Pearl Harbor, they did not expect total war against the United States. Rather, they expected to scuttle the Pacific fleet and wait for a negotiated peace as the Germans finished off the USSR and turned towards America. They expected a negotiated settlement akin to those that they had achieved in previous military conflicts, such as the Russo-Japanese War. However, instead of a negotiated peace, the United States used the event to escape the Great Depression and forced Japan to a fight to the death that Japan, even in the best of times, could not win.
The final conflict between the forces of House Iye and Hanshiro has multiple characteristics that are integral to this metaphor. Prior to the battle, Hanshiro chastises the House for their treatment of Chijiiwa, stating that they should have questioned Chijiiwa's motives in all regards. He also states that while Chijiiwa’s conduct was dishonorable, the...