Rule of Three


Harold and Maude

directed by Hal Ashby
Feature film

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A woman smiles to herself, soaking up the sunlight. Pristine swimming cap in place, she disrobes and proceeds into a turquoise pool. As she advances, the camera tilts down, trailing the glinting ripples of her steady stroke. Two feet bob into view as the lens descends. They are attached to a body, fully clothed, floating face-down in the water. Gliding past her seemingly lifeless son, the swimmer flicks her eyes to heaven, then continues her length unperturbed. Harold's mother has grown weary of his hobbies as a funeral gate-crasher and death-faker. Finding meaning and mirth in morbidity, he variously burns, bleeds, and falls to his end.

Words by Elizabeth Brown


by Yukio Mishima
Short story

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‘Patriotism’ carefully traces the lives of a pair of vibrant, youthful newlyweds. Despite the couple’s recent marriage, though, this is not the portrait of an intimate, loving relationship. It is the tragic tale of an intense, almost unfathomable, loyalty. Yukio Mishima crafts each sentence with a precise clarity that is as achingly beautiful as it is painful to read. The spouses’ eventual fate is foreshadowed and drawn out, slowly brought closer with each word. As the story is drawn full circle, we are left in shock and awe. Recalling the conclusion, we sense a tight knot forming in our stomachs.

Written by Katherine Fieldgate


by Toru Takemitsu
Film score

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Low, ominous rumbles and keening woodwind melodies combine at a funereal pace. They repeat, cycling as if outside of time, intermittently disturbed by flourishes of violence that match the massacre onscreen. Like the bloody brutality that it accompanies, the score both troubles and beguiles, compelling us to pay closer attention even as we wish to turn away. This long sequence unfolds without sound effects, leaving the music to chart its own course. At times, it seems eerily independent of the events onscreen, as if listening to the anguish at a distance, and with an indifferent ear.

Words by Lewis Coenen-Rowe

More to discover

Harold and Maude: You can watch the trailer here, and see the scene described above here. Kim Morgan has written about the film for The Huffington Post.

Patriotism: You can read the short story here.

Ran: You can listen to an excerpt from the score here. Tom Service has written an introduction to Toru Takemitsu for The Guardian, as has Alex Ross for The New Yorker.

Today's connection

Characters commit harakiri, an act of ritual suicide, in each of these works (as did Yukio Mishima, author of 'Patriotism', himself).

Question of the day

What harakiri-related artworks would you recommend?
Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, directed by Nagisa Oshima. (→)

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Quarantine, an album by Laurel Halo. The cover artwork, created by Makoto Aida, is called Harakiri School Girls(→)

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