New York Times - 04/06/2007
"[I]t has a clarity of purpose and a simplicity of execution that makes it still appealing."
Sight and Sound - 11/01/2010
"Ichikawa Kon's spiritual odyssey offered the most convincing attempt to date to convey the psychological impact of the country's surrender at the end of WWII."
Shôji Yasui stars in director Kon Ichikawa's adaptation of Michio Takeyama's antiwar novel. Set in Burma during the waning days of WWII, a unit of Japanese soldiers hangs on, inspired by the virtuoso Burmese harp playing of Private Mizushima. When the war finally ends, the unit is taken to an internment camp at Mudon to prepare for repatriation. The British plan on cleaning out a pocket of die-hard Japanese mountain fighters, but Mizushima volunteers to try to persuade the men to surrender. When they refuse, the mountain garrison is wiped out, and Mizushima himself is badly wounded. A Buddhist monk nurses the soldier back to health, and when Mizushima leaves for the camp at Mudon, he dons the garb of a monk. As he makes his way slowly across the Burmese countryside, observing the endless of miles of torn and broken corpses, the impact of the war's waste begins to weigh on the harp player. Mizushima begins to either burn or bury as many as he is able to, increasingly overtaken by the idée fixe of burying all the Japanese dead in the country. An oblique yet moving film, THE BURMESE HARP achieves much of its power and poignancy through the juxtaposition of the detritus and horror of war with the beauty and tranquillity of nature. As is often the case in Japanese films, humanity is accorded a humble role in a vast universe.
Kon Ichikawa's antiwar classic depicts the aftermath of the Burmese campaign of World War II and centers on a soldier who, after a series of horrifying experiences, comes to realize that his vocation is to bury the unknown dead.