Best Movies by Farr
The Burmese Harp Poster
Released Runtime Category
1956 116 Foreign Language, Drama, War, The Criterion Collection
Director Language
Kon Ichikawa Japanese
Shoji Yasui, Rentaro Mikuni

The Burmese Harp

Watch it on:

What's it About

Led by charismatic music teacher Capt. Inouye (Mikuni), a Japanese regiment enters a seemingly tranquil Burmese village near the end of World War II, only to realize they are surrounded by British troops, who plan to escort them to a POW camp. One soldier, harp-playing Corporal Mizushima (Yasui), is seriously wounded in the resulting firefight. Nursed back to health by a Buddhist priest, Mizushima feels drawn to pursue a life of contemplative enlightenment.

Why we love it

Ichikawa's absorbing study of soldiers under fire was one of the first films in any country to explore the spiritual impact of war. Heightening the effect, on one hand, is his brilliant use of music, via the transporting strains of Mizushima's harp and the infantrymen's morale-building chorale singing, taught to them by Inouye. But the director also frames indelible images of war's horror, such as one famous image of corpses piled and strewn across a desolate beach. Still, Ichikawa's message is essentially a humanistic one, and "Harp" is a tender, often profound meditation on the best and worst aspects of our inner nature.

Up Next

The Butcher Boy

BEST MOVIES BY FARR is your personal guide to great movies to rent, stream, or buy; to watch at home or on-the-go. Led by film advocate John Farr, the Best Movies by Farr team works as a "quality filter" for the discerning moviegoer. Every day, we bring you the best of the best, the fantastic familiar films and hidden gems, to answer that age-old question: "What should we watch tonight?"