Burmese Harp Reviews
(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
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.
"The Burmese Harp" easily ranks alongside Kubrick's "Paths Of Glory" and Wyler's "The Best Years Of Our Lives" as one of the most powerful films about war. This can not be recommended anymore, it is a must see movie. The end started to bring tears to my eyes as just how beautifully sad yet hopeful the movie is. An amazing accomplishment by any standards. 10/10
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.
And ofcourse, there is an added beauty of burmese culture.