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THE HARP OF BURMA

Japan, 1956 (MIFF 1959, Programme 19)

Director: K. Ichikawa

Eleven years after V-J day. the Pacific phases of World War II still fascinate the Japanese.

The Harp of Burma opens in July, 1945—the war was nearing its end for the Japanese forces in Burma, and units were crossing the mountains to escape into Thailand. Mizushima. dressed as a Burmese native, warned his group of ambush by walking ahead, signalling by playing his harp. The detachment is taken prisoner while resting in a village, and sent to Mudon to await repatriation. Mizushima volunteers to convince a group of obstinate fighters of the official surrender and. on his return, encounters the heaped bodies of his slain countrymen, lying in the woods and on the hillsides. He is gripped by an obsession to bury the dead—as some sort of expiation, perhaps on the world's behalf.

His waiting comrades listen for the strains of his harp; a tune of his is heard — "Home Sweet Home" — but it is the English, not Mizushima. Orders finally come for repatriation. Before departure the prisoners are confronted by a mysterious wandering priest, who plays a familiar Japanese song of farewell, and disappears.

This strange and haunting film, with its curious pacifist message, is one of the finest to come from Japan.

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