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

 -  Drama | Music | War  -  28 April 1967 (USA)
7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 3,254 users  
Reviews: 38 user | 45 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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Title: The Burmese Harp (1956)

The Burmese Harp (1956) on IMDb 7.9/10

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Rentarô Mikuni ...
Captain Inouye
...
Mizushima
Jun Hamamura ...
Ito
Taketoshi Naitô ...
Kobayashi (as Takeo Naito)
Shunji Kasuga ...
Maki
Kô Nishimura ...
Baba (as Akira Nishimura)
Keishichi Nakahara ...
Takagi
Toshiaki Ito ...
Hashimoto
Hiroshi Hijikata ...
Okada
Tomio Aoki ...
Oyama
Akinori Hanamura ...
Nakamura (as Nobuteru Hanamura)
Sanpei Mine ...
Abe
Takashi Koshiba ...
Shimizu
Tomoko Tonai
Tokuhei Miyahara ...
Nagai
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Storyline

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

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Music | War

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »
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Details

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Language:

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Release Date:

28 April 1967 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Burmese Harp  »

Filming Locations:

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Technical Specs

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Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Kon Ichikawa said the original novel was treated as a fantasy, but he chose to eliminate that aspect of the story. See more »

Goofs

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 »

Quotes

Captain Inouye: [Excerpt from Mizushima's letter, which Captain Inouye reads to his men as they sail back to Japan] As I climbed mountains and crossed streams, burying the bodies left in the grasses and streams, my heart was wracked with questions. Why must the world suffer such misery? Why must there be such inexplicable pain? As the days passed, I came to understand. I realized that, in the end, the answers were not for human beings to know, that our work is simply to ease the great suffering of the world. To...
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Connections

Spoofed in Tampopo (1985) See more »

Soundtracks

Aogeba Toutoshi
(Traditional Japanese Farewell Song)
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User Reviews

 
The Burmese Harp is a poignant elegy to the failure of Japanese imperialism.
19 October 2002 | by (Atlanta) – See all my reviews

The Burmese Harp (Biruma no tategoto) is a poignant elegy to the failure of Japanese imperialism in World War II and a plea for a more humanistic world. Because it is a Japanese film and portrays events from the perspective of a proud, yet defeated nation, the story it tells is doubly moving. Released in 1956, director Kon Ichikawa's film was made while Japan was still recovering from the effects of war and a full decade before the nation's economy improved on world markets and the international prestige of Japan's technology began its remarkable climb.

Born on November 20, 1915, Kon Ichikawa is considered one of Japan's leading directors. Ichikawa's first major film, A Girl of Dojo Temple (1946), was a puppet version of a Kabuki play. The American Occupation authorities confiscated the film because its script had not been submitted for their approval. Ichikawa's early films were often comedies or satires-a rarity in Japanese cinema-and earned him the appellation of the "Japanese Frank Capra." Ichikawa first achieved fame in the West with The Burmese Harp, which won the San Giorgio Prize in 1956 at the Venice International Film Festival.

The events depicted in The Burmese Harp are on the surface quite simple. The viewer becomes aware of the film's symbolic and allegorical nature only later on in the film. The story concerns a small band of Japanese soldiers who are fighting in a remote part of Burma, unaware that the unconditional surrender of Japan took place three days earlier.

One of the band, Private Mizushima (Shoji Yasui), plays a harp to wile away the time and to entertain his comrades. The ranking officer, Captain Inouye (Rentaro Mikuni), is a former musician, and his soldiers relish the music of the harp and the joy of singing together. But this love of music signifies more than just a temporary release from the stresses of men at war. The men's singing becomes a leitmotif throughout the film and a symbol for the community of spirit that binds them all together. Music functions in the film as a semi-religious, semi-mystical force that has the power to unify and to heal.

Melody is equated with the life of the spirit and the joy of home and happier times. The discord of war is heightened by the presence of this music in the midst of palpable fears, where sudden death is not the most frightening, and a painful, lingering death from starvation or wounds is a very real possibility for each man. In a wonderful early scene, Mizushima and his comrades confront British troops as night falls. In the midst of a small celebration, the men learn that British troops are nearby and watching them. But the Japanese continue singing casually in an effort to gain time to ready themselves for battle. But the disguise is not really necessary, as the British themselves burst into song and the two nationalities blend in an instance of peace and harmony with renditions of "There's No Place Like Home."

The Burmese harp itself is a central symbol in the film that serves to define Mizushima and his quest. The harp is an element of stability in the lives of all of the men. But have the men have gained their separate peace?


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