(Biruma no tategoto)

Directed by Kon Ichikawa. Japan. 1956.

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Based on a novel by Michio Takeyama, Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp is the lyrical story of a Japanese soldier in Burma at the close of World War Two. The soldier, Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) is sent on a mission by his Captain to inform another unit of the Japanese surrender and to convince them to stop fighting. When the unit refuses to give up and are destroyed by the British Army, only Mizushima remains alive and must come to terms with his nation's defeat. Pretending to be a Buddhist monk, he undergoes a religious conversion when he comes face to face with the staggering amount of death and destruction he sees as he travels across the region in search of his unit. Determined to honor and bury the dead, Mizushima is conflicted about remaining in Burma to live a life of service or returning to Japan to help rebuild his own country.

The film takes its name from a Burmese harp acquired by Mizushima. He has become an expert harpist and plays while the soldiers sing beautiful chorales with a sound so lush it seems as if it is coming from the Mormon Tabernacle. While the depiction of the soldiers is idealized, The Burmese Harp transcends its limitations to become a universal testament not only to the madness that prevailed in Burma, but to the unspeakable horrors of all war. Ichikawa, in spite of the fact that this film became a classic, loved the story so much that he made it again in 1985.

Howard Schumann
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