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.