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The Burmese Harp

September 7, 2010

303. Biruma no Tategoto (The Burmese Harp)
Directed by Kon Ichikawa
Japan, 1956
IMDB | allmovie

Reviewed by Ally
First viewing


The soil of Burma is red, and so are its rocks.

Captain Inoye’s group fights in the World War II Burma Campaign, singing together to raise moral. Private Mizushima accompanies them on his saung. When the company learns of the war’s end, they surrender to British troops. Mizushima is sent to talk down another Japanese group but, when they refuse to surrender, he is separated from his company and presumed dead.

Mizushima wanders Burma looking for his company, posing as a Buddhist monk to avoid suspicion. On his travels he passes the bodies of many Japanese soldiers strewn across the Burmese countryside. He comes close to rejoining his old group, but is moved to stay and bury the fallen instead.

Essential Scene:

Captain Inoye’s company is released from the British camp and begins the journey home. On the boat, Inoye reads aloud a letter from Mizushima. The letter explains why he cannot return home with them.

As I climbed the mountains and crossed the rivers, burying the bodies left in the grasses and streams, my heart was racked with questions. Why must the world suffer such misery? Why must there be such inexplicable pain? As the days passed, I came to understand. I realised that, in the end, the answers were not for human beings to know, that our work is simply to ease the great suffering of the world. To have the courage to face suffering, senselessness and irrationality without fear, to find the strength to create peace by one’s own example. I will undergo whatever training is necessary for this to become my unshakable conviction.


I wasn’t relishing the thought of seeing a Japanese war film. My preconceptions were that it would be hard work, heavy, depressing. I shouldn’t listen to my preconceptions. It could be described more accurately as a peace film, depicting the horrors of war to convey an ultimately uplifting message. Put simply, The Burmese Harp is one of the most moving, beautiful films I have seen in a long time.

The Burmese Harp is available on blu-ray from Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series.

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 7, 2010 9:31 pm

    Just a note that didn’t belong in the main review…

    When I mentioned the film to my parents today, they informed me that my paternal grandfather served as an ambulance driver in Burma during WW2. I spent this afternoon looking through a small collection of his old photographs but sadly couldn’t identify which ones are from Burma, since he went so many other places too. But it was interesting for my family history to coincide with a film in such a way.

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