Kon Ichikawa’s The Burmese Harp examines the horrors of war through the eyes of Mizushima, a lone Japanese soldier who while trying to reach his imprisoned platoon during his country’s surrender in Burma, disguises himself as a monk in order to traverse the ravaged countryside. During this painful odyssey, Mizushima fully realizes the war’s brutal aftermath when he discovers countless groups of dead Japanese soldiers, unburied and rotting in the harsh Burmese landscape. This spiritual awakening isn’t so much based on religion, but loyalty to his fallen brothers in arms and the personal relationships felt between soldiers.
Ichikawa’s astounding anti-war film shows the complexities of this loyalty, both in terms of ideology and country, and fellow soldier both living and deceased, while painting a vivid and harrowing picture of the reconstruction process. It’s a film bursting with poetry, flushed with music and compassion in a time of demoralization and death. Mizushima’s dedication to his friends lies hidden beneath the crimson stained soil and rocks, out of sight but never out of mind, making his sacrifice all the more grandiose and humane in the end.