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The Burmese Harp (Criterion Collection)

Rentarô Mikuni , Shôji Yasui , Kon Ichikawa    Unrated   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Product Description

An Imperial Japanese Army regiment surrenders to British forces in Burma at the close World War II and finds harmony through song. A corporal, thought to be dead, disguises himself as a Buddhist monk and stumbles upon spiritual enlightenment. Magnificently shot in hushed black and white, Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp is an eloquent meditation on beauty coexisting with death and remains one of Japanese cinema's most overwhelming antiwar statements, both tender and brutal in its grappling with Japan's wartime legacy.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Difficulty Of Being A Good Buddhist April 10 2003
Format:VHS Tape
Many people, when they think of Buddhism, think of blissful meditation and serene contemplation. This movie graphically depicts the other side of Buddhism;i.e., hard work in the real world, in the real transformation of oneself and in one's efforts to help other beings, no matter how difficult or horrific the circumstances.
The film concerns a Japanese soldier separated from his unit in Burma, at the very end of WW II and its immediate aftermath. As he journeys to find his unit in a POW camp, he is confronted, at every turn in this wasteland of war, with dead and unburied fellow Japanese soldiers. At first, he disguises himself as a Buddhist monk (knowing that the Burmese respect and feed their monks). When he comes across British hospital staff burying an unknown Japanese soldier, with a formal Christian burial service and great respect, he is transformed. He recalls the hundreds of dead and unburied Japanese soldiers he had seen in his journey, he becomes a true Buddhist monk, and makes a singular and difficult vow; he will not return to Japan until he has buried all of the corpses he had seen. So he goes back, and begins his work.
Hardly blissful meditation, this. But he personifies what the Buddha taught; the purpose of Life is to be happy, but true happiness can only come from serving others. This soldier/monk, in devoting his life to active, difficult and gruesome work, is more a true fulfillment of the Buddha's teachings than is one who meditates on the weekend and wears prayer beads because it is "cool."
Sorry to sermonize, but this movie is not only a wonderful work of cinema, it is a Buddhist teaching in itself. Compassion MUST be coupled with the very difficult work of serving others.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Harp of Burma Dec 17 2002
Format:VHS Tape
I first saw this film in the early '70's, on a PBS Japanese Film Festival, and never forgot it. I have been trying to buy this movie for years, and was finally able to find a copy here. It is very beautiful and serene. I usually describe a movie orally and in detail, so to write about it is difficult for me. The harp-playing hero wanders through a war-torn land trying to return to his comrades who are in a British POW camp. On this odyssey, he encounters the dead bodies of many unburied soldiers. A conversion begins to take place within him, and he is strongly affected by these powerful images. He begins to travel through Burma burying the dead, and becomes integrated into a Buddhist sect. By the time he sees his old comrades, he has become too changed to rejoin them. They, on the other hand, try several methods to convince him to come home with them. This is a thoughtful film, and I recommend it highly to all ages.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One Scene Stands Out July 7 2004
Format:VHS Tape
I won't restate what was said by those earlier reviewers who found this to be an amazing film. I agree and it has always been on my "Top Ten" list. I would add only one thing. The climactic scene in which the converted monk sits at night talking to his former fellow soliders who are behind a tall chainlink fence (they are now in a POW camp waiting to be shipped home to Japan) is one of the most moving moments I've ever experienced. This once scene captures exactly what it means for the individual to follow his (or her) own destiny.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  50 reviews
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Difficulty Of Being A Good Buddhist April 10 2003
By James Steve Robles - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape|Verified Purchase
Many people, when they think of Buddhism, think of blissful meditation and serene contemplation. This movie graphically depicts the other side of Buddhism;i.e., hard work in the real world, in the real transformation of oneself and in one's efforts to help other beings, no matter how difficult or horrific the circumstances.
The film concerns a Japanese soldier separated from his unit in Burma, at the very end of WW II and its immediate aftermath. As he journeys to find his unit in a POW camp, he is confronted, at every turn in this wasteland of war, with dead and unburied fellow Japanese soldiers. At first, he disguises himself as a Buddhist monk (knowing that the Burmese respect and feed their monks). When he comes across British hospital staff burying an unknown Japanese soldier, with a formal Christian burial service and great respect, he is transformed. He recalls the hundreds of dead and unburied Japanese soldiers he had seen in his journey, he becomes a true Buddhist monk, and makes a singular and difficult vow; he will not return to Japan until he has buried all of the corpses he had seen. So he goes back, and begins his work.
Hardly blissful meditation, this. But he personifies what the Buddha taught; the purpose of Life is to be happy, but true happiness can only come from serving others. This soldier/monk, in devoting his life to active, difficult and gruesome work, is more a true fulfillment of the Buddha's teachings than is one who meditates on the weekend and wears prayer beads because it is "cool."
Sorry to sermonize, but this movie is not only a wonderful work of cinema, it is a Buddhist teaching in itself. Compassion MUST be coupled with the very difficult work of serving others.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Burmese Harp March 19 2007
By Clinton Enlow - Published on Amazon.com
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
I don't usually make a lot of blind buy especially concerning Criterion discs. All I can say is The Burmese Harp is a damn good film from director Kon Ichikawa a director whose films I've never seen but hope to fix. Its melancholic, beautiful, and truly one of the best war films ever made without all of that fuss people consider great in war movies, mainly overly hyped battle scenes that are meant to distract from cliched plots and what goes for characters.

Thats one of the refreshing things I suppose in the movie. Most movies dealing with the horrors of war seem to focus on mans inhumanity to man with characters who fit into that good and evil state. In Harp the Japanese soldiers surrender without firing a shot. The captain of the platoon works with British soldiers sending a willing soldier to a lone mountain where another group of soldiers is hold against against British forces willing to fight to the last man despite the fact that Japan had already surrendered. Even in these scenes the movie doesn't focus on the fact the evil of the men but the sadness of watching men focused on dying over something that doesn't exist anymore. The soldier, Mizushima is hurt in the ensuing shootout between British and Japanese forces found by a monk. While he's reported dead to his captain dressed in Monks robes Mizushima marches back to his troop, horrified that along the way thousands of dead men lie rotting in the sun. He gets to the prison camp but after witnessing British burying a dead a dead Japanese soldier goes back out into the Burma countryside making it his mission to bury the soldiers.

I didn't mean to give a plot synopsis, and really theres more to the plot than I described. The film is at times delicate with one scene I could describe as heavy handed. The acting is generally good with a standout being Rentaro Mikuni as the captain of the soldiers a man who at first wants to find the missing soldier like his men, but in one instance understands what is happening to the man and gives up trying to find out if he's alive. And the direction and writing is amazing as well.

Criterion does well with the DVD presenting a beautiful transfer. I'm not one who sings the praises of black and white photography but then I find something like this film that blows me away with an amazing use of shadow light in scenes. Its a beautiful film well represented. And also worth noting is Akira Ifukube's magnificent score which is epic and beautiful. I don't know how much he worked with but as music plays large part of the films story with the soldiers being led in songs many times for a variety of reasons there are times where it adds to the story as well as the viewing experience.

One small caveat. I understand from the liner notes that director Ichikawa did a remake using the same script (he even had the same actress that plays an old woman trading with the Japanese soldiers in the prison camp)of the film in 1985. Sure it would have made the disc more expensive, but as Criterion has put out discs featuring two versions of the same story (Floating Weeds/The Lower Depths) it would have been interesting to see this film provided. Sure it would probably be a lesser work compared to the original but I'm interested in seeing how the same director redoes his own masterpiece.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Spiritual Rebirth Of A Japanese Soldier In Burma Aug. 1 2005
By Ernest Jagger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
Director Kon Ichikawa, known for his harrowing and gritty portrayal on the brutality of war in the film "Fires on the Plain," which took place on the Philippine Island of Leyte, during WWII, has given us a truly great look at the defeated Japanese army in Burma at the close of the war. "Burmese Harp," not unlike "Fires on the Plain" deals with the defeated Japanese army. However, where "Fires on the Plain" shows the viewer the despair of Private Tamura, the film "Burmese Harp" gives us a look into the spiritual awakening of one Japanese soldier towards the end of World War Two. The soldier and main protagonist is named Mizushima (Shoji Yasui).

Moreover, unlike Ichikawa's later film "Fires on the Plain" this film is not so much about the hellish nighmare of fighting a war, as much as it deals with the hellish aftermath of the Burma Campaign, and how the horror of this tragic campaign weighs heavily on the conscience of one Japanese soldier. For those of you who are not familiar with WWII, or the Burma Campaign; it was in Burma where the Japanese Imperial army suffered the greatest loss of life in World War II. In the film, Mizushima agrees to go to a fortified mountain stronghold, where the last remnants of Japanese soldiers are holed up, refusing to surrender. He is to inform them of the surrender of Japan, and for those inside to lay down there arms in order to return to Japan. However, something goes terribly wrong as the company of Japanese soldiers refuse to surrender.

Narrowly escaping death himself, Mizushima decides not to return to his company, or Japan. For something has changed. He is nursed to health by a priest, and steals the priests clothes: That of a Buddhist Monk. As he proceeds across Burma, he sees nothing but the unburied corpses of dead Japanese. Mizushima is affected by seeing these unburied dead of his fellow Japanese countryman, and in a symbolic death and rebirth, he assumes the role of a monk and decides not to return to his unit in the POW camp, or even to return to Japan until ALL of his fellows soldiers are buried.

He begins the task of burying any and all Japanese dead that he comes across in his journey across Burma: A very formidalble task indeed! Mizushima's horror at seeing the bodies of the unburied dead have had a profound affect on him, and he has become a different person. This is a truly profound and poignant film. And considering that this film was released in 1956, a mere 11 years after the end of World War Two, makes this a classic film which must rank right up there with some of the greatest antiwar films of all-time. This film predates "Fires on the Plain," by a good 3 years. For an early film dealing with this war, I believe this is one of the greatest films to come out of Japan dealing with the trauma of WWII. Especially considering is was directed by a Japanese, and released in Japan. A must see, and highly recommended.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting Japanese anti war film! July 1 2005
By Hiram Gomez Pardo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
At the end of the WW2, a survivor of a Japanese Command, follows his bliss when he takes a decision: to disguise himself as a monk . He will make a reflexive tour, a powerful insight act, a soul searching journey soul searching back to those places where his fellow comrades met the death. This redemption fact once more completes the mythical cycle of the life: birth and innocence, maturity and experience and finally wisdom and redemption.

If you haven' t seen yet this acclaimed film, it's time for you to make it, because this is a milestone film about the existence ' sense, and the finding of a superb gem: an original film that you will never forget in the rest of your life.

It's useless to tell this is one of my beloved films in my personal collection. Ichikawa was the same director of Fire on the plains.

It's absolutely unbelievable this film has not been released yet on DVD format.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Harp of Burma Dec 17 2002
By Douglas L. McPherson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
I first saw this film in the early '70's, on a PBS Japanese Film Festival, and never forgot it. I have been trying to buy this movie for years, and was finally able to find a copy here. It is very beautiful and serene. I usually describe a movie orally and in detail, so to write about it is difficult for me. The harp-playing hero wanders through a war-torn land trying to return to his comrades who are in a British POW camp. On this odyssey, he encounters the dead bodies of many unburied soldiers. A conversion begins to take place within him, and he is strongly affected by these powerful images. He begins to travel through Burma burying the dead, and becomes integrated into a Buddhist sect. By the time he sees his old comrades, he has become too changed to rejoin them. They, on the other hand, try several methods to convince him to come home with them. This is a thoughtful film, and I recommend it highly to all ages.
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