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The Burmese Harp (1956)

Biruma no tategoto (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama, Music, War | 28 April 1967 (USA)
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

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 Itô ...
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

Country:

Language:

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Release Date:

28 April 1967 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

The Burmese Harp  »

Filming Locations:

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Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (part one) | (part two)

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

Remade as Biruma no tategoto (1985) See more »

Soundtracks

One Sweetly Solemn Thought
Music by Phillip Phillips
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User Reviews

"Down in Burma, the soil is red. So are rocks"
20 February 2002 | by (isla de la muerte) – See all my reviews

`I cannot leave the bones lying scattered on the hills.'

More melodramatic than his harrowing Fires On The Plain, Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp is still an excellent film and a fascinating glimpse at another perspective of the 2nd World War than the usual (myopic and infantile) Hollywood triumphalism. As with many Japanese films from this period, from Kurosawa to Godzilla, it has an elegiac and reflective quality to it born of the shock and disillusionment that followed the war.

I personally was a little uncomfortable with the first 20 minutes of the film that were a little hokey with the singing platoon trying to slip through the forests of Burma to the Thai frontier. However, the film really begins to become compelling and very poetic with the character Mizushima's mission to Triangle Mountain and his voyage south to Mudon to rejoin his unit now in prison camp. Undergoing a symbolic `death' and injured, he is nursed by a priest, but steals the priest's garb as a disguise. However, on the way he passes great numbers of Japanese and is horrified by what he sees. When he arrives at his destination and is staying at a monastery, one monk comments, `You seem to have come through such severe hard training.' He cannot return to his unit. He is determined to bury the dead, to extend empathy to each of them and to pray for their souls. The physical journey is symbolic of a physiological and spiritual journey and is some very creative and effective storytelling. There is much more to the movie, plot wise and thematically, than this, but this is what impressed me most.

The imagery is incredible whether it is raindrops collecting and then running along barbed wire, dripping off; or the mud along the riverbanks; or the scene of Mizushima burying corpses at the river, a few villagers standing behind, watching; or the priest bathing in the river; or the shot of Mizushima disappearing into the mist. There is one moment in the prison camp which occurs during a rainstorm. I was really impressed with the natural lighting which gave me the sense of being there. I have looked out windows on days like that as those characters are and the experience "feels like that scene looks". It is incredible how evocative the Japanese films of the period were.

The film reminded me of Stone's Platoon with similar music, symbolism, characters, and melodrama. It also seems to have affinities with Apocalypse Now, in that the central concern is not action or tension (though they do not lack these qualities) but potent ideas and a sense of mystery. Both Apocalypse and Harp involve `pilgrimages' and characters transformed by the horror of the situation. They both involve characters unable to return home after this evolution. I do not know if either of these films was influenced by The Burmese Harp, but if they were they modeled on an excellent and moving predecessor.

Akira Ifukube's score is classic and will probably sound somewhat familiar to the viewer. He has scored nearly 260 films, including films in the popular Zatoichi series and many of Toho's sci-fi films.


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