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Harakiri

Live Piano Accompaniment by Robert Humphreville
Screening on Film
Directed by Fritz Lang.
With Lil Dagover, Niels Prien, Georg John.
Germany, 1919, 35mm, black & white, silent, 80 min.
Dutch intertitles with English subtitles.

On the heels of The Spiders, Part I and with much of the same cast, Harakiri adapts the Madame Butterfly tale with names changed and slightly altered roles. Lang’s Butterfly is O-Take-San—played by Dr. Caligari’s and Dr. Mabuse’s Lil Dagover—while her freewheeling lover is Scandinavian rather than American. Rising from his more minor role in the original is a ghoulish priest whose invocation of a wrathful Buddha appears as distinctly European as the cast. He malevolently pursues the ostracized, lovelorn O-Take-San from nunnery to teahouse, through the flowers, screens and silks of the beautifully rendered Japanese village which Lang had meticulously constructed in Germany. Lost for decades until its 1987 discovery, Harakiri‘s coiled melodrama and supernaturally tinged exoticism resemble a light pastel sketch of the more trenchantly drawn visions of Lang’s later work.

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