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Monday, July 4, 2011

BIRUMA NO TATEGOTO / THE BURMESE HARP (1956)

Kon Ichikawa built this confounding anti-war fable out of the most unlikely pieces: a harp-playing, guilt-ridden soldier; a musical sergeant who drills his men in three-part harmony; war-trained parrots with spoken messages; a Burmese Bloody Mary right out of SOUTH PACIFIC; a gemstone imbued with the souls of Japanese war dead; and "Home Sweet Home,’ in English & Japanese as leitmotif. Yet he incorporates these (quite literally) fabulist elements as if they were as natural & realistic as bird calls or soldiers longing for home, as corporal & horrific as decomposing logs or unburied dead. Taken from a novel that Ichikawa felt was like a fairy tale for adults, the story has been given a war zone verisimilitude as it follows a heroic harp-playing soldier who fails on his most important mission, but goes on to sacrifice his life for his country’s war’s dead . . . yet doesn’t die; and his fellow soldiers, going home after Japan’s surrender, who cling to the idea that their missing comrade hasn’t deserted or died. Somehow, in this beautifully directed, physically stunning film, Ichikawa avoids the stink of sanctified worthiness, the film is too odd & mysterious to fit any committee’s notion of universal brotherhood. And what a moving testament he makes of it.

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