The Burmese Harp (1956 film)
|The Burmese Harp|
|Directed by||Kon Ichikawa|
|Produced by||Masayuki Takagi|
|Written by||Michio Takeyama (novel),
|Distributed by||Brandon Films (USA)|
|Release dates||(part 1) 21 Jan 1956; (part 2) 12 Feb 1956 (Japan)|
|Running time||143 minutes (Japan)
116 minutes (other countries)
The Burmese Harp (ビルマの竪琴 Biruma no tategoto , a.k.a. Harp of Burma) is a 1956 black-and-white Japanese film directed by Kon Ichikawa. It was based on a children's novel of the same name written by Michio Takeyama. It was Ichikawa's first film to be shown outside Japan, and is "one of the first films to portray the decimating effects of World War II from the point of view of the Japanese army." The film was nominated for the 1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, during the first year that such a category existed.
In 1985, Ichikawa remade the film in color with different actors.
Private Mizushima (Shoji Yasui), a Japanese soldier, becomes the harp (or saung) player of Captain Inouye's (Rentarō Mikuni) group, composed of soldiers who fight and sing to raise morale in World War II Burma Campaign. When they are offered shelter in a village, they eventually realize they are being watched by British soldiers. They successfully retrieve their ammunition, then see the advancing force. Instead of firing at them, though, the enemy soldiers begin singing. They learn that the Japanese surrender has occurred and they surrender.
At a camp, an Australian captain asks Mizushima to talk down a group of soldiers who are still fighting on the mountain. He agrees to do so and is told by the captain that he has 30 minutes to tell them to surrender. At the mountain he is almost shot down before they realize he is Japanese. He climbs up and asks to speak to whoever is in command. He informs their commander that the war has ended and they should surrender. The commander says he shall talk to the other soldiers, and they come out minutes later stating that unanimously they decided to fight to the end. Mizushima begs for them to surrender but they do nothing. He decides to ask for more time from the Australians. When he creates a surrender flag, the others take it the wrong way and believe he's surrendering for them. They beat him unconscious and leave him on the floor. The cave is bombarded, and he becomes the only survivor. He steals a monk's robe so that he will not be spotted as a soldier, and wanders around looking for the camp his group was in. Finding many unburied corpses of dead Japanese soldiers, he decides to bury them.
Meanwhile, Captain Inouye and his men are wondering what happened, and cling to a belief that he is still out there. Eventually they buy a parrot (saying "Mizushima, let's go back to Japan together" over and over again) and tell a villager to take it to a monk they suspect is Mizushima in hiding. But another parrot is returned with a long letter replying that he refuses to go back to Japan with them, because he must continue burying the dead while studying as a monk, and promoting the peaceful nature of mankind. He states in the letter that if he finishes burying all the fallen soldiers bodies, then he may return to Japan.
- Rentarō Mikuni as Captain Inouye
- Shoji Yasui as PFC. Mizushima
- Jun Hamamura as Pvt. Ito
- Taketoshi Naito as Pvt. Kobayashi
- Kō Nishimura as Baba (as Akira Nishimura)
In Japan, Nikkatsu, the studio that commissioned the film, released it in two parts, three weeks apart. Part one (running 63 minutes) opened on January 21, 1956, and part two (80 minutes) opened on February 12, both accompanied by B movies. Its total running time of 143 minutes was cut to 116 minutes for later re-release and export, reputedly at Ichikawa's objection.
Awards and nominations
- 1957 Academy Awards - Best Foreign Film - nominated - Masayuki Takagi
- 1957 Mainichi Film Awards - best film score - won - Akira Ifukube
- Venice Film Festival - OCIC Award - Honorable Mention - Kon Ichikawa
- Venice Film Festival - San Giorgio Prize - Kon Ichikawa
- Venice Film Festival - Golden Lion - Nominated - Kon Ichikawa
Screenwriter Natto Wada (Ichikawa's former wife) lets minimal dialogue carry the emotion of The Burmese Harp. Ichikawa allows the grandeur of the Burmese landscape and the eerie power of its Buddhist statuary and architecture to sustain the mood of Mizushima's conversion and the mystification of his Japanese comrades. Yet the gravity of the film lifts with the lyrical score, the light humor of a local bartering woman (Tanie Kitabayashi) with her parrots, and the genuine but uncomprehending affection of the soldiers for their missing mate.
Ichikawa's film is sharper and more clearheaded than Takeyama's book, perhaps because it reflects an encounter with the reality of Burma and the Burmese. Most details in the film are taken directly from the book, although the overall structure has been changed....It's with the dropping of one of the book's episodes entirely and substituting ideas of his own that Ichikawa provides the measure of the film's achievement. After Mizushima is sent on the futile mission to persuade a belligerent captain to surrender, he's wounded in the leg by a British bullet and left to die....In the book, Mizushima is found and nursed back to health by a non-Burmese tribe of cannibals, who plan to eat him; ... Ichikawa instead has Mizushima brought back from near death by a Buddhist monk, who intones over his patient the line "Burma is Burma. Burma is the Buddha's country." After his recovery, Mizushima shamelessly steals the monk's robe (his only thought is self-preservation, and he needs a disguise) and makes his way south, intending to rejoin his company, which is where Ichikawa's story line rejoins Takeyama's.
- List of submissions to the 29th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film
- List of Japanese submissions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
- Tony Rayns (16 March 2007). "The Burmese Harp: Unknown Soldiers". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
- "The Burmese Harp (Biruma no tategoto)". BBC Four. 22 August 2002. Retrieved 2010-07-10. "A compassionate, anti-war film (yet refusing to enter into any cinematic discussion of where to lay blame), this is one of the first films to portray the decimating effects of the war from the point of view of the Japanese army."
- "The 29th Academy Awards (1957) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-10-24.
- The Burmese Harp (1956) at the Internet Movie Database
- Audie Bock (27 January 1993). "The Burmese Harp". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2010-07-10.
- The Burmese Harp (1956) at the Internet Movie Database
- Voted #20 on The Arts and Faith Top 100 Films (2010)
- "(Biruma no tategoto pt.1 1956)" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-07-13.
- "(Biruma no tategoto pt. 2 1956)" (in Japanese). Japanese Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-07-13.