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.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.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.
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?
- Oct 19, 2002