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Burmese Harp - Criterion Collection

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Product Details

  • Actors: Rentaro Mikuni, Shôji Yasui, Jun Hamamura, Taketoshi Naitô, Kô Nishimura
  • Directors: Kon Ichikawa
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: March 13, 2007
  • Run Time: 116 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000M2E3FY
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,037 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Burmese Harp - Criterion Collection" on IMDb

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • New video interviews with director Kon Ichikawa and actor Rentaro Mikuni
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • Booklet with a new essay by critic and historian Tony Rayns

Editorial Reviews

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.


Kon Ichikawa's Buddhist tale of peace, The Burmese Harp, is universally relevant in various eras and cultures, although it comments specifically on the destruction of Burma during World War II. Based on the novel by Michio Takeyama, The Burmese Harp stars a Japanese platoon stationed in Burma whose choir skills are inspired by their star musician, Private Mizushima (Rentaro Mikuni), who strums his harp to cheer the homesick soldiers. As the troop surrenders to the British and is interred in Mudon prison camp, Mizushima escapes to be faced with not only his imminent death, but also the deaths of thousands of other soldiers and civilians. Relinquishing his life as a military man, Mizushima retreats into a life of Buddhist prayer, dedicating himself to healing a wounded country. Filmed in black and white, strong visual contrasts heighten the divide between peace, war, life, and death in this highly symbolic film. Scenes in which the Japanese soldiers urge opposing forces to sing with them portray military men regardless of alliance as emotionally sensitive. Showing the humanistic aspects of war, such as the male bonding that occurs between soldiers, doesn't justify war as much as deepens its tragedy. This release includes interviews with the director and with Mikuni, further contextualizing its place in Japanese cinema. The Burmese Harp, with its lessons in compassion and selflessness, is so transformative that viewing it feels somewhat akin to a religious experience. --Trinie Dalton

Customer Reviews

Its a beautiful film well represented.
Clinton Enlow
Private Mizushima becomes a sort of "hidden avatar" in his mission to bury the dead Japanese soldiers scattered across the Burmese landscape.
alan j. greczynski
The film concerns a Japanese soldier separated from his unit in Burma, at the very end of WW II and its immediate aftermath.
James Steve Robles

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By James Steve Robles on April 10, 2003
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.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Clinton Enlow on March 19, 2007
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.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ernest Jagger on August 1, 2005
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.
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