In a poor 19th century rural Japanese village, everyone who reaches the age of 70 has to climb a nearby mountain to die. An old woman is getting close to the cut-off age, and we follow her last days with her family.
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
Selected by the Vatican in the "values" category of its list of 45 "great films." 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 »
[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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Based on a novel by Michio Takeyama, The Burmese Harp was the first film that brought director Kon Ichikawa to international attention. It is the story of Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) a Japanese soldier in Burma at the close of World War Two who is sent on a mission by his Captain to inform another unit of the Japanese surrender and to convince them to stop fighting. When the unit refuses to give up and are destroyed by the British Army, only Mizushima remains alive and must come to terms with his nation's defeat. Pretending to be a Buddhist monk, he undergoes a religious conversion when he comes face to face with the staggering amount of death and destruction he sees as he travels across the region in search of his unit. Determined to honor and bury the dead, Mizushima is conflicted about remaining in Burma to live a life of service or returning to Japan to help rebuild his own country.
The film takes its name from a Burmese harp acquired by Mizushima. He has become an expert harpist and plays while the soldiers sing beautiful chorales with a sound so lush it feels as if it is coming from the Mormon Tabernacle. While the depiction of the soldiers may be idealized, The Burmese Harp transcends its limitations to become a universal testament not only to the madness that prevailed in Burma, but to the unspeakable horror of all war. Ichikawa, in spite of the fact that film became a classic, loved the story so much that he filmed it again in 1985.
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