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

 -  Drama | Music | War  -  28 April 1967 (USA)
8.0
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Reviews: 39 user | 43 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)

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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
Norikatsu Hanamura ...
Nakamura
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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Release Date:

28 April 1967 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Burmese Harp  »

Filming Locations:

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Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

According to the Bloomsbury Foreign Film Guide by Ronald Bergan and Robyn Karney, this World War II film was "one of the first Japanese films concerned with pacifist themes related to the defeat of Japan in 1945." See more »

Goofs

The 'British' officer in charge of the funerary cremation repository speaks with a decidedly Australian, not British, accent. See more »

Quotes

Voice of Mizushima's parrot: No, I can't go back.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Burden of Love (1955) See more »

Soundtracks

Ryoshu
("Dreaming of Home and Mother")
Written by John Pond Ordway
See more »

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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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