The Difficulty Of Being A Good Buddhist
James Steve Robles | Mora, New Mexico, USA | 04/10/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Many people, when they think of Buddhism, think of blissful meditation and serene contemplation. This movie graphically depicts the other side of Buddhism;i.e., hard work in the real world, in the real transformation of oneself and in one's efforts to help other beings, no matter how difficult or horrific the circumstances.
The film concerns a Japanese soldier separated from his unit in Burma, at the very end of WW II and its immediate aftermath. As he journeys to find his unit in a POW camp, he is confronted, at every turn in this wasteland of war, with dead and unburied fellow Japanese soldiers. At first, he disguises himself as a Buddhist monk (knowing that the Burmese respect and feed their monks). When he comes across British hospital staff burying an unknown Japanese soldier, with a formal Christian burial service and great respect, he is transformed. He recalls the hundreds of dead and unburied Japanese soldiers he had seen in his journey, he becomes a true Buddhist monk, and makes a singular and difficult vow; he will not return to Japan until he has buried all of the corpses he had seen. So he goes back, and begins his work.
Hardly blissful meditation, this. But he personifies what the Buddha taught; the purpose of Life is to be happy, but true happiness can only come from serving others. This soldier/monk, in devoting his life to active, difficult and gruesome work, is more a true fulfillment of the Buddha's teachings than is one who meditates on the weekend and wears prayer beads because it is "cool."
Sorry to sermonize, but this movie is not only a wonderful work of cinema, it is a Buddhist teaching in itself. Compassion MUST be coupled with the very difficult work of serving others."
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 01/20/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At the beginning of this long film the audience sees a spectatcular view red dirt and red mountains of Burma, which is very significant because, if one is familiar with Buddhist tradition, the dust symbollizes the mortal world of suffering and it represents what one wants to brush off if one desires to follow the path of the Buddha. After seeing the bleak terrain, the audience is introduced to a small contigent of soldiers led by Captain Inoue a former music teacher. In order to keep his troops spirits up, the Captain teaches his men how to sing with varying degrees of success. His most gifted soldier is Mizushima, who has taught himself how to play a Burmese Harp which he has mastered quite skillfully.
Trudging along the harsh landscape, The soldiers find shelter and food in a small village. The villagers feed and shelter them, but when the soldiers want to perform a song for them, the villagers turn their backs on the troops. Later they learn that Japan has ceased fighting. Captain Inoue and his men peacefully turn themselves over to the British. However, other pockets of Japanese soldiers are still fighting. Captain Inoue asks Mizushima to inform one group of soldiers to stop fighting and give themselves up. After talking with the British Colonel, who gives Mizushima thirty minutes to make peace with the Japanese, Mizushima speaks with the commander of the Japanese forces, but instead of giving up, they fight to the bitter end and are completely wiped out by the British.
Mizushima survives, but is seriously injured. He is discovered by a Buddhist monk who nurses him back to health. One day, while taking a bath, Mizushima's clothing is stolen, so he dones the robes of a Buddhist monk and also shaves his hair. He travels around and is given food by devout Buddhist people. At this point Mizushima's main goal is to reach Mudon and be reunited with his unit, but after seeing hills made of the bodies of deceased Japanese soldiers and funeral ceremonies performed by the British for fallen Japanese soldiers, he takes a new path to bury the bones of his fellow soldiers. However, his old friends have not forgotten him...
This movie is based on Takeyama Michio's 1946 novel of the same name, which has come under some serious criticism because of its portrayal of the Japanese soldiers as a basically happy bunch victimized by the Britsh, when in fact the Japanese brutalized Burma, China, Manchuria, and several other countries. However, this film was created some ten years after the novel and was directed by Ichikawa Kon, a humanist director. So, when you watch the film take it with a grain of salt, but don't let the salt get into your eyes and keep you from enjoying this film.
The Burmese Harp
Clinton Enlow | Kansas | 03/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't usually make a lot of blind buy especially concerning Criterion discs. All I can say is The Burmese Harp is a damn good film from director Kon Ichikawa a director whose films I've never seen but hope to fix. Its melancholic, beautiful, and truly one of the best war films ever made without all of that fuss people consider great in war movies, mainly overly hyped battle scenes that are meant to distract from cliched plots and what goes for characters.
Thats one of the refreshing things I suppose in the movie. Most movies dealing with the horrors of war seem to focus on mans inhumanity to man with characters who fit into that good and evil state. In Harp the Japanese soldiers surrender without firing a shot. The captain of the platoon works with British soldiers sending a willing soldier to a lone mountain where another group of soldiers is hold against against British forces willing to fight to the last man despite the fact that Japan had already surrendered. Even in these scenes the movie doesn't focus on the fact the evil of the men but the sadness of watching men focused on dying over something that doesn't exist anymore. The soldier, Mizushima is hurt in the ensuing shootout between British and Japanese forces found by a monk. While he's reported dead to his captain dressed in Monks robes Mizushima marches back to his troop, horrified that along the way thousands of dead men lie rotting in the sun. He gets to the prison camp but after witnessing British burying a dead a dead Japanese soldier goes back out into the Burma countryside making it his mission to bury the soldiers.
I didn't mean to give a plot synopsis, and really theres more to the plot than I described. The film is at times delicate with one scene I could describe as heavy handed. The acting is generally good with a standout being Rentaro Mikuni as the captain of the soldiers a man who at first wants to find the missing soldier like his men, but in one instance understands what is happening to the man and gives up trying to find out if he's alive. And the direction and writing is amazing as well.
Criterion does well with the DVD presenting a beautiful transfer. I'm not one who sings the praises of black and white photography but then I find something like this film that blows me away with an amazing use of shadow light in scenes. Its a beautiful film well represented. And also worth noting is Akira Ifukube's magnificent score which is epic and beautiful. I don't know how much he worked with but as music plays large part of the films story with the soldiers being led in songs many times for a variety of reasons there are times where it adds to the story as well as the viewing experience.
One small caveat. I understand from the liner notes that director Ichikawa did a remake using the same script (he even had the same actress that plays an old woman trading with the Japanese soldiers in the prison camp)of the film in 1985. Sure it would have made the disc more expensive, but as Criterion has put out discs featuring two versions of the same story (Floating Weeds/The Lower Depths) it would have been interesting to see this film provided. Sure it would probably be a lesser work compared to the original but I'm interested in seeing how the same director redoes his own masterpiece."
Haunting Japanese anti war film!
Hiram Gomez Pardo | Valencia, Venezuela | 07/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At the end of the WW2, a survivor of a Japanese Command, follows his bliss when he takes a decision: to disguise himself as a monk . He will make a reflexive tour, a powerful insight act, a soul searching journey soul searching back to those places where his fellow comrades met the death. This redemption fact once more completes the mythical cycle of the life: birth and innocence, maturity and experience and finally wisdom and redemption.
If you haven' t seen yet this acclaimed film, it's time for you to make it, because this is a milestone film about the existence ' sense, and the finding of a superb gem: an original film that you will never forget in the rest of your life.
It's useless to tell this is one of my beloved films in my personal collection. Ichikawa was the same director of Fire on the plains.
It's absolutely unbelievable this film has not been released yet on DVD format.