Yukinojo, a Kabuki actor, seeks revenge by destroying the three men who caused the deaths of his parents. Also involved are the daughter of one of Yukinojo's targets, two master thieves, and a swordsman who himself is out to kill Yukinojo.
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
Viewers familiar with Gojira (1954), may recognize many of the cues present in The Burmese Harp's soundtrack, as composer Akira Ifukube adapted Godzilla's requiem theme into several pieces heard throughout the film. 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 »
The soil of Burma is red, and so are its rocks!
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`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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