Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Burmese Harp

This week's TCM Import is The Burmese Harp, overnight tonight at 2:00 AM ET. Although some people might see it as containing a bit of whitewashing of history, it's still an outstanding movie.

The setting is Burma, at the end of World War II. The Japanese are supposed to be surrendering in Burma, but because of the chaotic communications, not all of the troops have gotten the message. One platoon commander sends a soldier to inform another platoon that's holed up and still fighting the British, that their government back in Japan has surrendered, and so they're supposed to do so, too. The journey isn't easy, and worse, the holed-up soldiers don't particularly believe the Emperor would ever surrender, so they'd rather fight on. On his way back to his original platoon, our hero sees that one of the horrors of war is soldiers who haven't been buried because there's just no time to do it.

So, he decides that he's going to desert and become a Buddhist monk, in order that he can fulfill what he sees as his duty to give the fallen soldiers a proper burial. His former comrades are by now POWs, but one day they think they see him in a procession of monks. Their suspicions become even stronger when they hear their comrade's harp playing; he had been the platoon's musical accompaniment when they sang in camp. Our protagonist, however, tries to avoid meeting them, so that he doesn't have to give the game away.

The movie is quite well made, and beautifully poetic, but as I said before, there are a few problems with history. By all accounts, the Japanese were very tough in war, and even a movie like Bridge on the River Kwai (also set in Burma) came under criticism by some of the British POWs who thought it sugar-coated the Japanese actions. Then again, this can be forgiven, since the movie is not so much about the war as about the aftermath of war.

The Burmese Harp has made its way to DVD, but like many foreign films, the lesser interest results in a higher DVD price.

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