Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Burmese Harp

Posted on Thu, Mar 22, 2007 at 4:00 AM

The Burmese Harp
Studio: Criterion Collection
WorkNameSort: Burmese Harp, The
Criterion released Kon Ichikawa's The Burmese Harp (1956) and Fires on the Plain (1959) on the same day, and watching these two anti-war movies in succession, it's hard to believe they were made by the same man. Ichikawa's lack of a signature style has always perplexed auteurist critics, and these films showcase this diversity with polar-opposite tones: the hopeful, tear-jerking poignancy of Harp and the brutal, unflinching pessimism of Fires. The latter may be one of the cinema's most nauseating-yet-humorous train wrecks through war's pitiless terrain, but The Burmese Harp, about a soldier who leaves his loving unit to convert to the peaceful solitude of Buddhism in Burma at the conclusion of World War II, is its most humanistic look at the cost of war. The beautifully realized transfer captures the nuance of Ichikawa's meticulous lighting and sound design, crucial for a film that so joyously evokes the transcendent power of music through the titular instrument. Ichikawa and actor Rentaro Mikuni provide reflective interviews, and critic Tony Rayns' indispensable essay, included in the supplemental booklet, explores the movie contextually, analytically and politically with grace and ease.

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