Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp was a deeply poignant take on the devastating human and social costs of wars, and would rank amongst the most stirring anti-war films ever made. The director himself remade it in colour 29 years later, but the B/W original remains the more renowned of the two. Set during the final days of WWII, it focused on a Japanese troop, comprising of regular young men longing to be back at home, stationed in Burma. Upon their country’s surrender, Mizushima (Shoji Yasui), a young soft-spoken Private with a gift for playing the harp, is sent to coax a Japanese band, fighting a last-ditch battle against the British, to surrender, in order to prevent further loss of lives. When the mission ends in disaster, he disguises himself as a Buddhist monk and starts roaming around the country. However, the harrowing sights of corpses callously strewn all around bring about a profound impact on him, and his sole mission in life becomes giving proper burials to all the dead soldiers. Meanwhile, his former regiment, led by the empathetic Captain Inouye (Rentarō Mikuni), starts desperately trying to convince him, in futility, to return home with them. The film’s lyrical humanism was impossible to miss, and the strong dose of pathos and grief at the horrors of the war is sure to leave one affected. The director’s intent, therefore, wasn’t to examine Japan’s role in the war; his message was, rather, more universal in nature. The excellent photography of the war-ravaged country was marvelously accompanied by the haunting tunes of the harp, lacing the film with a deeply melancholic tone that bordered on the sentimental without being maudlin.
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Genre: Drama/War Drama