The Burmese Harp (1956)
"Biruma no tategoto" (original title)

Not Rated  |   |  Drama, Music, War  |  28 April 1967 (USA)
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Ratings: 8.1/10 from 3,882 users  
Reviews: 40 user | 44 critic

In the War's closing days, when a conscience-driven Japanese soldier fails to get his countrymen to surrender to overwhelming force, he adopts the lifestyle of a Buddhist monk.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Rentarô Mikuni ...
Captain Inouye
Jun Hamamura ...
Taketoshi Naitô ...
Kobayashi (as Takeo Naito)
Shunji Kasuga ...
Kô Nishimura ...
Baba (as Akira Nishimura)
Keishichi Nakahara ...
Toshiaki Ito ...
Hiroshi Hijikata ...
Tomio Aoki ...
Norikatsu Hanamura ...
Sanpei Mine ...
Takashi Koshiba ...
Tomoko Tonai
Tokuhei Miyahara ...


Mizushima is a soldier in the Japanese army in Burma in World War II. He's a good soldier and frequently plays his harp to entertain his fellow soldiers. When the war comes to an end, he is asked by the British to go into the mountains to try and convince a Japanese troop to surrender. Given only 30 minutes to convince them, Mizushima is unsuccessful - they would rather die with honor - and the British attack. Deeply affected by what has happened, he becomes a Buddhist monk, traveling the countryside burying the remains of Japanese soldiers. He is unable however to rejoin his brothers-in-arms. Written by garykmcd

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Drama | Music | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »





Release Date:

28 April 1967 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Burmese Harp  »

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Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


The film was originally slated to shoot in three-strip color, but director Kon Ichikawa worried that the huge camera might break down on location and he would not be able to have it fixed, so he shot in black-and-white. See more »


The modern harp (with its pedal changes and its consequent ability to make changes of harmony, in particular)that is played throughout on the film's soundtrack does not match the much more basic instrument shown in the film. See more »


Captain Inouye: The songs uplifted our spirits and sometimes our hearts.
See more »


Remade as The Burmese Harp (1985) See more »


Hanyuu no Yado
(Japanese Version of 'Home Sweet Home')
See more »

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User Reviews

You don't know how it is fighting a war, man!
7 November 2003 | by (Toronto, Canada) – See all my reviews

Putting history and politics aside, I found this film confronted some very human emotions involving war. No matter if this were a Japanese company of soldiers, or a British company, most war movies don't touch on ideas like you'll find here. The film follows a company of Japanese soldiers, with little or no supplies, attempting to reach the border of Thailand. The men enjoy singing wherever they go, and are quite proud of their abilities. It makes them think of their loved ones back home and gives them a sense of unity and hope. One of the men, Mizushima, plays the harp with natural talent, as he had never studied music before joining the army. There is a great scene where the Japanese see the British troops hiding in the forest, so they start to sing, tricking the British into thinking they are oblivious to them. When the British then start singing back, and both sides are singing together, it is a scene of great joy and unity between all humans. Somehow it isn't even cheesy.though it seems it could be, the way I'm writing this review. The British notify the Japanese men that the war ended three days earlier, when Japan surrendered. They are placed in a P.O.W. camp until it is possible to send them all home. The commander of the Japanese men attempts to fill his men's hearts with hope and pride, telling them that together they will rebuild Japan. They are told that nearby, a company of Japanese troops is in an ongoing skirmish with the British, unreachable and unaware of the war's end. Mizushima, is given permission to go and try to explain that Japan has surrendered, promising his company that he'll catch up in Mudon. This turns out to be a not very easy job, as the commanding officer is into the whole `I'm not giving up until I die,' philosophy. Getting nowhere, Mizushima questions their logic to try and persuade them their lives are worth saving, as Japan needs to be rebuilt. The British only agreed to a 30 minute cease fire, and when that time is up, all the Japanese men are killed. Only Mizushima crawls out alive and is found by a Buddhist monk. While he is taken care of by the monk, his company is sad and anxious for his return. Once healed, his intention is to walk to Mudon and surprise all the men, so he sets out in Buddhist costume across Burma. On his way he encounters many heaps and piles of rotting dead Japanese soldiers, and he feels it important to give them a proper burial.

These scenes are when Mizushima fully realizes the extent of what war is all about. It's not about pride and hope, it's about putting your life on the line. He is accepted by the Buddhist church and decides to stay and live a simple life, honoring the dead through prayer and burial. His men try to persuade him using a talking parrot switcheroo, teaching a parrot to say `come home to Japan, Mizushima' and giving it to him. He, in reply, sends back his parrot, which he taught to say `no, I am staying here.' It is a pacifist sentiment throughout, a great film covering the human emotional perspective on war in a unique way.

8 of 12 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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