Burmese Harp - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Burmese Harp Reviews

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Super Reviewer
May 18, 2009
Little too moralizing and sentimental for my tastes. Some nice compositions though...
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.
Super Reviewer
½ 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.
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.
Super Reviewer
½ 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.
Super Reviewer
½ 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.
Super Reviewer
½ January 4, 2007
Somber Japanese WWII drama is sometimes too eager to be anti-war.
½ March 21, 2012
When a war has ended, can you ever truly go home? The answer to that question is the central tenet of this film's emotional journey, and it's a difficult one to take. A moving film, largely due to the music throughout.
September 15, 2010
On the surface The Burmese Harp is an anti-war film, but upon deeper viewing, it is an allegory about spirituality. After being nursed back to health by a Burmese monk, Mizushima takes on the monk?s traditions and tries to give the souls of all the fallen soldiers peace. The sound of Mizushima?s harp playing travels ghost-like through the air giving hope to his imprisoned comrades before culminating in the powerful scene where they meet and sing together once again.
The cinematography is highly appropriate for the subject matter of the film. There are many wide-angle pans throughout the film which highlight both things of beauty and things of horror. The black-and-white film emphasizes the juxtaposition of shadow and color. The result is a subdued feeling while watching the film. The imagery of the vast country, the sky, and of piles of dead soldiers combined with the sorrowful and soulful songs left me feeling morose through the duration of the film.
Ichikawa also uses many close-ups throughout the film. During the scene where the monk is nursing Mizushima, the camera cuts between close-ups of the monk to close-ups of a Burmese idol several times while Mizushima lies immobile. This is where his spiritual transformation takes place. The close-up was also used effectively during the scene where Mizushima?s feet are cut with the feet of his comrades. Mizushima was out walking in the country while the men were walking in the internment camp, but the camera cut back and forth between them as if they were still together.
Ichikawa was the perfect director for this film. Many directors would have turned the film into a blatant anti-war vehicle full of horrific scenes and excessive melodrama. Ichikawa handled the film with subtlety, however. His imagery fits flawlessly with the story and the music. The captain?s reading of the letter during the trip home is an incredibly touching scene which explains the meaning of the film so aptly. It is a fine and appropriate culmination to a lovely film.
½ 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.
½ December 6, 2009
powerfully moving anti-war film that tackles the little-addressed aftermath of war: cleaning up the bodies. a japanese soldier in burma is tasked with the impossible mission of convincing a neighboring company to surrender to british forces. the aftermath of the incident transforms him irrevocably, while his unit works tirelessly to reunite with him before returning to japan. at the center of the film is music - the soldier plays a burmese harp, and his unit has learned to sing as a chorus. as the chorus and the harp move throughout the country searching for reunification, the music pierces through the ravages of war with haunting beauty. features breathtaking photography of burma's mountains, valleys, and landmarks.
½ September 29, 2009
The Soil of Burma Is Red

In the "idiots on IMDB" files, someone has said that an American version of this movie would be about good Nazis. Leaving aside the conflation of German soldiers and Nazis, there's a much larger problem. Which is that this isn't a Burmese film about good Japanese soldiers, which it would have to be for the analogy to work. However, this is a Japanese movie about good Japanese soldiers. Every side sympathizes with its own, after all. The better equivalent would be an American film about good Confederates, and even that's an imperfect analogy. These are just ordinary soldiers who've spent unknown amounts of time out in the jungle. Oh, they were assuredly part of an occupying force, And "just obeying orders" only goes so far, but I think part of the point of the movie is that these are just ordinary guys who are fighting a war they think they have to and once it's over just want to go home. Any country can make a film about that, and probably just about every country has.

The war is ending. Captain Inouye (Rentar˘ Mikuni) is a basically good man. Like so many other soldiers--at this point in any of the armies, officers--he didn't start as a soldier. He wasn't a career man. He was a musician. This is probably why one of his soldiers, Mizushima (Sh˘ji Yasui), takes up the titular Burmese harp. In fact, they use it as a method of communication, because the sound of that harp in Burma isn't exactly uncommon, though perhaps more so in the jungle. One day, they are told that the war is over, and they are to report to prisoner of war camps to be repatriated. Which they agree to do. Only one group of holdouts is still in a cave up on a mountain, and the British Army decides that a Japanese soldier must go and try to talk them into surrender. For reasons I'm not clear on, Mizushima is the one Captain Inouye sends. He is given half an hour to convince them, and he fails. The cave is bombed, and every man in it but Mizushima is killed. He is found and cared for by a Buddhist monk, and in turn, Mizushima becomes one. He also begins burying soldiers' bodies, though he is still draw back to Mudon, where his unit is held.

Okay. It is true that this movie has nothing to say on the subject of atrocities committed by the Japanese Army in Burma. It does not mention any Japanese atrocities at all. The soldiers we are concerned with here spend more time singing than anything else; we don't really ever see them fire their weapons. It is true that Mizushima's interest lies in the Japanese soldiers left unburied across the country. He is not interested in the Burmese or the Allies. It is also, however, true that the British Army treats the Japanese soldiers very well, almost to the extent of letting them wander wherever they want to. They're in an enclosure surrounded by barbed wire, but at one point, they're also shown at a Buddhist temple--and it's only when the whole lot of them seem about to run off into the jungle that anyone says anything to them. There is also the old woman (Tanie Kitabayashi, I think, unless she had a name and I missed it), who comes and goes into the camp as she pleases.

The point, though, is to show this one man. I don't think anyone with any sense will claim that all Japanese soldiers throughout the war committed Rape of Nanking-level atrocities. I think it likely that at least some of these men availed themselves of "comfort women" earlier in the war. Probably at least one of them had done more, though we don't know for sure. However, none of that actually matters in context. Even, as has been pointed out, assuming that a film showing that could have been made in Japan at the time. It's dicey to think that it could be made in Japan now! However, what we are looking at here is Mizushima's personalization of the horrors of war. There is nothing he can do for the comfort women or the people of Nanking. What he can do, he can do for his countrymen. Probably on his quest, he will bury a lot of other soldiers, too. I can't see him saying, "No, you're not Japanese." Not if his new belief structure is to be at all believable. But it's what gets us at home that we feel first, and it's more striking to its intended audience.

There's very good music in this movie. Honestly, I thought it sounded a little studio-y, and that one little harp turns out to have an awful lot of range. Of course, I'm not familiar with that variety of harp, and it may. It's also probably true that, yes, the music was recorded in a studio and the men are lip-synching. However, I kind of don't care. The film is striking, musically and visually as well, of course, but mostly for its emotional depths. We are mostly focused on the journey of Mizushima. However, in watching that, it's easy to miss the path of Captain Inouye. He goes in a different direction and reaches a different conclusion, but probably it is a conclusion reached by Japanese men all over the theatre. Mizushima is going to care for the Japan left in the jungles and on the beaches of Burma. Inouye and the others are going home to care for the Japan they left behind. That it will not be that same Japan is something they must discover for themselves.
February 24, 2009
I just watched this, but I can safely say that this is one of the greatest Japanese films ever made. On the surface this is an anti-war film, but on a deeper level it examines how utterly profound and yet ineffable certain experiences in life are. The true pain of war (in this case) is a thing which has to be experienced personally. Mizushima, the harp player, is the embodiment of a certain duality here. After his experience, he never utters a word. The only connection tying him to his world is through his harp, which he had played before as a bond with those around him. Now however, the Burmese harp is strummed to fill a void which words cannot fill, and the director Ichikawa uses it as a stand-in for the dialogue between this apparation and man. The music is a reminiscence and longing for souls that live now only within the memories of others. (Mizushima teaches his harp skills to a young boy, but the boy can only repeat the notes in his own and incomplete way. Soon the original essence shall be forgotten.)

The poetry becomes clearer at the end of the film, when we see the two mimicking parrots sitting on Mizushima's shoulder. Each is a symbol for a life: on the one shoulder, the call for a return to pre-war life ("Return with us to Japan!"), and on the other, the reality of post-war life ("I can't go with you!"). Saddled between these two is death. It is the forgotten, the unexpressed -- a great debt which can never be repayed.

Mizushima, as the lingering ghost of battle, takes it upon himself to honor his fallen comrades with a proper burial. Realizing his task impossible in a blood-soaked countryside, he can only settle by offering a brilliant red ruby in the place of his countrymen's ashes. The gem's luster becomes hidden from the world, and like the spirits of the fallen, it is offered up back to the earth.
July 15, 2008
I was hoping for something more inventive from Ichikawa, but that's not to say that it isn't a wonderful work. Not so much as anti-war film as it simply mourns the consequences. Death and the rituals of putting the dead to rest are themes that are repeated throughout, from different viewpoints. Death connects all of the involved parties, as does music, especially the harp music that serves not only as a beautiful soundtrack, but also a major plot device. Very moving and expertly crafted.
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.
May 10, 2008
If it weren't for the pacing issues this was a borderline masterpiece. It's a really must see war film.
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