The Burmese Harp
History, they say, is written by the victors, so it can be enlightening to revisit it through the eyes of the vanquished --as is the case in this affecting post-war drama.
Reviewed by Sam Hurwitt, Fri., Oct. 18, 2002
THE BURMESE HARP (1956)
D: Kon Ichikawa; with Rentaro Mikuni, Shôji Yasui, Jun Hamamura, Taketoshi Naitô, Akira Nishimura.
History, they say, is written by the victors, so it can be enlightening to revisit it through the eyes of the vanquished. Sometimes translated as Harp of Burma, this affecting drama paints the devastating aftermath of war with a Japanese brush. It's 1943 and the war is going badly (for them), so troops trekking through Burma sing to preserve morale, one of them playing a Burmese harp he picked up along the way. The scene in which the Japanese find out the war is over, toward the beginning of the film, is one of the most powerful in the history of war movies: The resting soldiers spot British forces hiding in the bushes and carry on singing "Home Sweet Home" in Japanese (to fool the Brits into thinking they suspect nothing), only to find the surrounding soldiers singing along in English. Japan has surrendered. But that's just the beginning of the company's trials. As they linger in a British prison camp, waiting to be sent home, harpist Mizushima (Yasui) volunteers to try to persuade a still-fighting unit holed up in a cave to surrender. It's a mission that takes him much farther than anticipated -- presumed dead, disguised as a monk, wandering through fields strewn with the bodies of the slain, unable to return to his comrades or his former self until he somehow brings peace to the countless dead of war.