Home > Film, History, Reviews > DVD & Blu-ray Review: The Burmese Harp (1956) – Masters Of Cinema Series

DVD & Blu-ray Review: The Burmese Harp (1956) – Masters Of Cinema Series

The Burmese Harp has a strong message that music is a universally recognized tool of heart-to-heart communication!

At the close of World War II, a Japanese army regiment in Burma surrenders to the British. Private Mizushima (Shoji Yasui) is sent on a lone mission to persuade a trapped Japanese battalion to surrender also. When the outcome is a failure, he disguises himself in the robes of a Buddhist monk in hope of temporary anonymity as he journeys across the landscape – but he underestimates the power of his assumed role.

It must be the same for everyone to have some favourite tunes from their childhood. Every time the music is overheard, the nostalgic memories will come back to their minds. All the activities of daily life are somehow related to music and it can be in the centre of our lives, connecting different countries in the world beyond words. The Burmese Harp has a strong message that music is a universally recognized tool of heart-to-heart communication. There is no need for any words to explain the situation as music can reach and heal people’s minds just by the pure sound of an instrument.

(Image courtesy of Eureka Entertainment)

Mizushima, the main character of the film, plays the harp in such an emotional way. His pain, despair and exhaustion must be reflected in his performance, but surprisingly the sound is really comfortable to hear and it is played as if it is soothing the soldier’s wounds and hurt body. After seeing so many dead bodies lying on the ground, Mizushima could not think about going back to Japan and leaving the corpses of his fellow comrades exposed and unsolved. Every time he plays the harp, his determination to stay in Burma is expressed in the sound. That is why his division and its leader finally understands his kind heart and his difficult decision to stay in Burma on his own. They do not talk much or show their emotions, which is a well-known Japanese character trait. However, it does not mean they are not feeling anything. They choose not to speak as they can read each other’s mind and share it in silence. It is almost done so naturally like breathing in and out for any Japanese person. By staying quiet, they can be relaxed and happy to share the thoughts without talking. In order to show the contrast of the music and silence, the film contains little background music and that makes the harp performance sound outstanding and memorable.

(Image courtesy of Eureka Entertainment)

Moreover, Mizushima and his colleagues are typical Japanese people in those days who believed in the virtue of patience. This film teaches the audience how patient people were in old times and how impatient people are today. The scenes of Mizushima travelling miles and miles on bare feet seem so tough and hard but the acting was believable and it was sure that he would arrive at the destination. ‘Patience’ and ‘willpower’ used to be slogans for Japanese society, however, those words are not heard so much recently; civilization has exchanged them for ‘usefulness’ and ‘instant communications’. Although Japan produces some of the best technologies in the world to create the most efficient tools for its society, its people definitely have lost the core of the human strength called ‘patience’ and created the attitude of ‘laziness’ to be dependent on the useful gadgets. Lack of food, money, freedom and materials sometimes stimulates human instinct to survive. It is ironic that the younger generation in these days are materialistically satisfied but most of them are not fulfilled psychologically. It is believed, though, that Japanese people started realising the importance of willpower after the earthquake in Japan in March 2011. The spirits described in this film should be found in Japan right now.

(Image courtesy of Eureka Entertainment)

Amongst other war related films, The Burmese Harp, directed by Kon Ichikawa, stands out because it shows the positive power of music and the positive power of people who care about each other’s existence and try to help as much as possible. This is the beauty of human nature and succeeds in conveying his to the audience.

(Image courtesy of Eureka Entertainment)

(Image courtesy of Eureka Entertainment)

(Image courtesy of Eureka Entertainment)


Japan 117 min.

1.37:1 OAR

Black & white


Special Features:

  • New, restored high-definition 1080p transfer officially licenced from Nikkatsu
  • Newly translated optional English subtitles
  • Exclusive video interview with scholar and filmmaker Tony Rayns
  • Original Japanese theatrical trailer
  • 40-page booklet with an essay by Keiko I. McDonald and rare archival stills

Released by Eureka Entertainment on 21st February 2011

Author profile:

Alika Mochida is an Enka (Japanese blues) singer. She started singing Enka at the age of three. She studied drama in Cambrige and contemporary music in London and began working as a professional singer in 2009. She has performed at many occasions such as WOMAD 2010, HYPER JAPAN, and Japan Matsuri 2009 & 2010.

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Categories: Film, History, Reviews
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  1. November 6, 2011 at 6:10 am
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