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Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp) Reviews

Page 1 of 8
Bob S

Super Reviewer

May 18, 2009
Little too moralizing and sentimental for my tastes. Some nice compositions though...
Lucas M

Super Reviewer

December 23, 2011
A beautiful and moving film, Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp) is a terrific work by Mr. Ichikawa. With unforgettable actings, just like the screenplay and photography, the movie is an obligatory art film, that presents a powerful antiwar message. Fresh.
Jan Marc M

Super Reviewer

September 9, 2011
A Kon Ichikawa work charged with sincerity and depth, The Burmese Harp explores the fraternal relationship in a brethren of World War II Japanese soldiers. Passionate. Melodious. Spiritual. Powerful. Enlightened.

Super Reviewer

January 21, 2009
In order to wage war, in order for human beings to kill other human beings on a massive scale, there must be some rationalization. Historically, we, as warriors, create in our minds a caricature of those we call our enemies. It's a phenomenon that's universal and cross-cultural. We see those who oppose us as less than human, as men who don't laugh, men who don't shed tears, men who are essentially evil. In this manner they become non-people. In this manner we need not have sympathy or guilt when we destroy them. The Burmese Harp, a product of post-war Japan released in 1956, breaks down this wall of propaganda and reminds us of the toll that war takes on the souls of men.

Its been called an "anti-war" film but I'm not so sure that was foremost in the minds of those who brought this story to the screen. It seems, in retrospect, to be more of a soldier's portrait that has been stripped of its patriotic facade. Whatever their intent, the film makers have given us an under-rated gem that should not be missed.
Lanning :

Super Reviewer

March 14, 2009
A very good anti-war movie coming from the generation of Japanese who were part of the World War II experience. Soldiers who die and are left on foreign soil, in any war and from any country, are sadly separated forever from their homelands. It takes a unique individual to pledge his or her life to remaining behind to find the dead and bury them. A wonderful performance by Sh˘ji Yasui as the voluntary exile who must answer this higher calling of helping dead fellow-soldiers find a final resting place in Burma.

Super Reviewer

January 25, 2009
one of the most beautiful and powerful films ever made. mizushima is a heroic character yet tragic at the same time. the film could have used another 20 minutes to flush out more of the introductory relationships that the protagonist had with his fellow soldiers, but ichikawa directs well enough to give us enough of the story for it to profoundly impact the audience. this films shows the emptyness of the loss of life and holds as one of the greatest war films of all time.
Luke B

Super Reviewer

January 15, 2009
The Burmese Harp tells the story of a young soldier who finally realises the atrocities of war. The film is rather powerful in it's depictions of dead soldiers. Where other films show the violence of battle, here we see lifeless bodies piled on top of each other. With one soldier being alone it takes these horrific sights out of their war movie context. It's a story of how war can change a man and how, perhaps, no soldier can really "go home". The music is absolutely stunning, making an impact from the first frame. It's also beautifully shot and captures some unforgettable images of Burma. The sentimental touches bring it down as do a number of "spelling it out" lines of dialogue.
Eric B

Super Reviewer

April 25, 2011
Certainly, "The Burmese Harp" has a powerful premise. A small Japanese squad is stranded in Burma at the end of World War II. Now that Japan has officially surrendered, the men only want to return home. But one soldier stays behind, piously devoting himself to burying the Japanese corpses that litter the land.

So far, so good. But the execution of this story is surprisingly mawkish -- an unusual flaw considering that, if anything, Japanese movie characters tend to be too stoic. The problems begin with the music -- this delicate troop of choirboys loves nothing more than to burst into song. Naturally, their solemn, traditional hymns are delivered with perfect pitch and studio acoustics. The songs only seem cornier and more implausible as the film continues -- to give an idea of the script's subtlety, the most repeated tune is "Home, Sweet Home." There's even a second squad who turns up with a hidden talent for choral arrangements. Yup, it's a sing-off.

The weepy sentimentality is further upped by the overuse of talking parrots to convey heartfelt messages, plus the unlikelihood of soldiers in a prison camp being concerned with almost nothing except the fate of their one separated friend. It's all rather heavy-handed -- I found myself thinking of the preachier pacifist episodes of "The Twilight Zone."

If you can filter the above out of your experience and just focus on the philosophical journey of the wayward soldier Mizushima, "The Burmese Harp" holds its own as an affecting anti-war film.
William G

Super Reviewer

January 4, 2007
Somber Japanese WWII drama is sometimes too eager to be anti-war.
December 29, 2009
First what I didn't like: the English actors, some were terrible. Also, the Japanese were a hellacious army who took no prisoners and committed war crimes the likes of which would make Mizushima himself shit his pants. Not to say other countries didn't, but. . .you know. However, the message is not lost, war sucks.

I stick with a 4.5/5 rating because the story is still great, and well told. To the point of being downright moving.
July 10, 2008
not as strong as ichikawa's fires on the plain. towards it's climax it becomes a little too sentimental. still a powerful anti-war film nonetheless about comrade re, war's meaninglessness and it's toll on the mind.
February 17, 2008
Once more I got tricked by the hype surrounding a movie. I wouldn't say this is bad, but it is certainly not too good either. Some images are quite beautiful and the studio reproduction of Burma is very kitsh (in a good way).
But there is a painful dichotomy between the sober realism of the image and the poetic mushiness of the story. It is a complete fairy tale which deprives the film of human intensity. I mean once you saw Japanese soldiers kindly singing in the jungle of Burma, burying diamonds because they are the souls of their friends and dedicate their lives to give the right funerals to their fallen comrades you are floating in so much onirism that the characters feel more like Simbad the Sailor than a creature of flesh and blood.
Besides, the anti-war message was maybe very well tailored for the Japanese public of the 1950s, but now it sounds terribly old-fashioned. We know they died for nothing.
January 5, 2008
People said that I probably wouldn't like Ichikawa. Where the hell did that decision come from?

I actually loved this movie. Okay, I was thrown at first by the singing. When I think World War II, I normally don't think about the Japanese side of the war. Letters from Iwo Jima changed that philosophy for me, so I'm good now. But singing from a Japanese standpoint? Yeah. There's singing. It's not a musical, but there's a ridiculous amount of singing. The funny part is that it really works. The story makes sense and the singing, in no way, is a gimmick. I did think that the platoon sang and played the harp a litle too well, but they explained it enough for the suspension of disbelief to take over.

I don't know what it is about P.O.W. camp stories that really catch my interests. Two of my favorite movies are Stalag 17 and The Great Escape. This movie is slightly different than those two in the sense that escape has little to do with the movie itself. Really, this is about the brotherhood that comes with a military unit. While other movies also cover the sanctity of life and the uselessness of battle, this movie really examines it in another fashion. Beginning during the final days of the war, it is enlightening to see Japanese characters not looking like Klingons, obsessed with dying in the glory of war. Yes, those characters are in The Burmese Harp, but not for the main characters. Rather than being seen as cowards, the main characters just want to see everyone go home to their families. Japan is seen as a warm place, almost heavenly. Heck, at one point, I wished I was a Japanese soldier (until my History minor kicked back in and I remembered that there was that whole Axis issue.) Really, I think this movie is quite accessible despite being a foreign language film. What I did find hilarious is the lack of British actors in this movie. There were clearly Japanese actors speaking English and and almost everyone else was an Aussie playing a Brit. But I guess we can't complain. Look at Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's. Every other country can do whatever they want and I can never complain because of that flagrant racism.
mark d.
February 2, 2014
he film was nominated for the 1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, during the first year that such a category existed
June 28, 2013
A great anti-war film by one of the Japanese masters. I love the stark black and white cinematography in this film, the harp music, and the overall tone of the film.
Luc L.
February 2, 2013
A well made emotional film.
January 13, 2013
Set in the final days of the second world war, a group of Japanese soldiers hangs on, inspired by Private Mizushima's Burmese harp playing. As the group makes their way to an internment camp for repatriation, one of the private volunteers tries to persuade another group to surrender, and says he will follow them to the camp once the mission will be completed. But when he fails to appear, his comrades desperately search him, eventually realising that Mizushima has undertaken a compelling spiritual journey inspired by the horrors of the war which he sees on his way to the camp. A masterpiece. Poetic and sublime, requires no violence to take an anti-war stance that is both haunting and effective as well as persuasive. Its philosophy is as enchanting and appealing as the music of the Burmese harp, while the photography adds to the spectacular feel of the film.
Lucas M

Super Reviewer

December 23, 2011
A beautiful and moving film, Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp) is a terrific work by Mr. Ichikawa. With unforgettable actings, just like the screenplay and photography, the movie is an obligatory art film, that presents a powerful antiwar message. Fresh.
Dave J
October 31, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011

(1956) The Burmese Harp
(In Japanese with English subtitles)


Quite effective anti-war film with spiritual overtones which has to be seen to be believed just because it was based on an actual person, directed by Kon Ichikawa about the final days after WWII, focusing on a story about how a Japanese harp player working in part of a unit to being transformed to becoming a Burmese monk!

Extremely interesting part of Japanese history reflecting upon some of the fallen soldiers of Burma and has similar emotional overtones as the film "The Killing Fields" in 1984! I have no idea how can this film lost to the simplistic film "La Strada" for "Best Foreign Language" and not intentioned for the ignorant!

3.5 out of 4
Jan Marc M

Super Reviewer

September 9, 2011
A Kon Ichikawa work charged with sincerity and depth, The Burmese Harp explores the fraternal relationship in a brethren of World War II Japanese soldiers. Passionate. Melodious. Spiritual. Powerful. Enlightened.
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