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THE BURMESE HARP
1956 - Kon Ichikawa
Japan
45
Opening Shot

The film opens with a title card reading: "In Burma, soil is red, and so are the rocks", which heightens the expression of soul and nature as a tragic one in the face of war. This image and title card are repeated in the film touching final moments.

The Film

Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp is often celebrated among the greatest classics of Japanese cinema. This is the type of film that is moving and important. It has the power to inspire and to deeply resonant in the memory of the viewer. Made in 1956 the film deals with serious issues of pacifism and of life and death. The film is based on a novel by Michio Takeyama, and tells the story of a solider (Mizushima) who after World War 2 chooses to remain alone as a monk so he can bury the dead. Mizushima has been transcended spiritually towards enlightenment. Painful or lonely as it may be Mizushima is on a personal journey. He has gained a greater sense of meaning through the horror of war that he witnessed. The Burmese Harp expresses this through the haunting aftermath of war. The film also details this connection of the human soul with nature as we see dead bodies of soldiers throughout the peaceful contrast of the environment. The film closes with the same a title card as the opening, reading: "In Burma, soil is red, and so are the rocks". Today some moments may be deemed sentimental but only in the slightest. Kon Ichikawa has made a film that stands as an important one of the time, but its themes of peace and humanity deserve to be embraced on a universal level. There are so many powerful moments to this film (the soldiers singing as Mizushima plays the harp alone in the Buddha statute; Mizushima playing the harp for his friends; Mizushima’s goodbye letter). The Burmese Harp was the film that earned Ichikawa recognition throughout his native Japan and sprecifically throughout the world (it won two awards at the Venice Film Festival). It stands as a true landmark of Japanese cinema.

The Filmmaker

Kon Ichikawa started his long career at the start of Toho Film Company. It is there he met his wife Natto Wada, whom he collaborated with throughout the most prominent era of his career. Wada was Ichikawa's screenwriting partner on over 30 films starting with the 1949 feature Design of a Human Being through to his award winning documentary Tokyo Olympiad in 1965. During this period Ichikawa made his most well known films and is considered by many to be among the greatest humanist filmmakers of Japanese cinema. Most of these films dealt with bleak human themes with the most notable being his 1956 masterwork The Burmese Harp, a film that earned Ichikawa international acclaim with awards at the Venice Film Festival as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. His earlier background comes from animation, and Ichikawa has openly embraced the influence Walt Disney had on his career as a filmmaker. . Ichickawa may be less beloved and misunderstood then Akira Kurosawa, but he remains an important filmmaker in Japanese cinema.

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