A rhapsodic celebration of song, a brutal condemnation of wartime mentality, and a lyrical statement of hope within darkness; even amongst the riches of 1950s' Japanese cinema, The Burmese Harp, directed by Kon Ichikawa (Alone Across the Pacific, Tokyo Olympiad), stands as one of the finest achievements of its era.
At the close of World War II, a Japanese army regiment in Burma surrenders to the British. Private Mizushima is sent on a lone mission to persuade a trapped Japanese battalion to surrender also. When the outcome is a failure, he disguises himself in the robes of a Buddhist monk in hope of temporary anonymity as he journeys across the landscape – but he underestimates the power of his assumed role.
A visually extraordinary and deeply moving vision of horror, necessity, and redemption in the aftermath of war, Ichikawa's breakthrough film is one of the great humanitarian affirmations of the cinema.
Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and honoured at the Venice Film Festival, The Burmese Harp is one of cinema's great anti-war classics, alongside La Grande Illusion (Jean Renoir), Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata/Studio Ghibli), Paths Of Glory (Stanley Kubrick), All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone), and The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin).
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Kon Ichikawa's masterpiece is slow, deliberate and beautiful in every scene. While Mizushima is certainly the heart of the film it is the reactions of his surroundings (both human and natural) that make him stand out. His choice is made more poignant because of the reactions and uncomprehension of his comrades. A must-see.
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