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The Burmese Harp: The Criterion Collection

With the war drawing to a close, PFC Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) helps keep his squad in good spirits with his recently acquired Burmese harp. His squad, led by Captain Inouye (Rentaro Mikuni), are exceptionally musical, and it's music they hear from the English when the war finally comes to a close. They are all to be war prisoners, but before they're sent away, one member of the squad is requested to convince some still-fighting Japanese soldiers to surrender. Mizushima has ten minutes to persuade them, and he begs and pleads, but they feel their honor would be lost if they don't fight to the end. Mizushima tries to get out before his time is up, but before he can the cave is shelled, the Japanese fight back, and a bomb takes almost everyone out. In the POW camp, Inouye and the others try and find out what's happened to Mizushima, and make a deal with a local woman trader to check out the hospital. They hear nothing, while it turns out that Mizushima had been found and looked after by some Buddhist monks. After recuperating, he sees a lot of the corpses of his fellow comrades, and so he becomes a monk and makes his goal to bury all the soldiers that are still strewn about the countryside. Meanwhile, his old friends are worried that he was killed, with Inouye regretting that he didn't go to the cave himself, at least until they pass a monk who looks a lot like their friend. They're confused, and some think that Inouye is hallucinating out of guilt, or so they feel until they hear Mizushima play his harp. But Mizushima says nothing, and so the men (who are running out of time) desperately try to convince him to return with them to Japan. Kon Ichikawa's 1956 film The Burmese Harp was his first to express his deeply felt anti-war sentiments, and it's a strong tract on survivor guilt and atonement. But unlike follow-up Fires on the Plain, it's more mournful, and less visceral. Much of the drama is born out of the men trying to figure out where Mizushima is, which — as a plot — is a modest vessel. That said, the sentiments still resonate, and it's obviously deeply felt. The Criterion Collection presents the film in a beautiful black-and-white full frame transfer (1.33:1) with the original monaural audio (1.0) and optional English subtitles. Extras include interviews with Ichikawa (16 min.), Rentaro Mikuni (12 min.), and the film's theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—DSH



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