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Kon Ichikawa’s 1956 film The Burmese Harp is a powerful depiction of the spiritual journey of a Japanese soldier in Burma immediately following the end of World War II. Stephen Parmelee discusses the nature of this soldier’s search for meaning in the face of suffering; the parallels and differences between this soldier’s search and the Christian’s understanding of ultimate meaning; and Ichikawa’s unexpected use of Christian and a cappella music to punctuate the dramatic events that occur in the film. Parmelee is an assistant professor of English at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, where he directs the undergraduate film studies program.

War is an extreme situation which can change the nature of man. For this reason, I consider it to be the greatest sin.—Kon Ichikawa1

Although Kon Ichikawa had previously directed over 25 Japanese feature-length films, his nuanced 1956 anti-war film Biruma no tategoto, or The Burmese Harp,put Ichikawa on the cinematic map both in and beyond Japan. Barely a decade had passed since the unleashing of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, leaving those two cities virtually uninhabitable. Including the conventional bombing that flattened much of Tokyo, Allied bombs killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians by the time hostilities ceased in August 1945. Remarkably, the 1956 film seems to bear no bitterness toward the Allied soldiers it depicts, portraying these “enemies” as both human and humane. This positive depiction of Westerners seems even more remarkable when one considers that Ichikawa’s own family lived through the horrors of Hiroshima. He eventually learned via a letter that his family had survived the bombing, but once he was able to return to Hiroshima, he could not find even a remnant of his home or his neighborhood in “the barren ruins.”2 Ichikawa’s filmic struggle to wrestle with the “inexplicable pain” of a war-torn world resonated with both Japanese and Western audiences in the 1950s and continues to speak important truths to attentive viewers today.

The graciousness amid the suffering and desolation of Ichikawa’s first anti-war film is not a reflection of a Christian filmmaker’s worldview or even a filmmaker with avowed religious convictions. Ichikawa once said, “I had become aware that men are unhappy. You can even say that they are in anguish and so the only way to show a real man is to show an unhappy one. Oh, I look around for some kind of humanism but I never seem to find it.”3 But in The Burmese Harp Ichikawa grapples with questions of suffering, evil, and meaning with which people of faith must grapple. His characters, Japanese and Burmese Buddhists for the most part, cope with the seeming disconnect between the search for ultimate meaning and the hardship of life just as Christians and those of other faith traditions do. The protagonist’s ultimate conclusion about his role in the midst of life’s suffering is remarkably similar to that reached by the most famous of biblical sufferers, Job himself, and it mirrors a Christian understanding of the relationship between humankind and God.

The film tells the story of a company of Japanese soldiers stationed in Burma. The soldiers are far from home; they know that the war is essentially over and that their homeland is in a state of desolation. “The tides of war had turned against Japan, even in Burma,” the narrator tells us; “All of Japan has been heavily bombed. Many are dead. Many are homeless and starving. Our country is in ruins.” It is unbearably hot; they are having trouble finding enough food to sustain them; they do not know what lies in their immediate future or whether they will even survive to return home; and they do not know what awaits them when they do return. So they do something that one suspects is very uncommon for soldiers in their situation: they sing. And they do not merely sing; they sing wonderfully, in harmony, with gusto and precision. “Why don’t we sing? Singing is meant for times like these,” one of the men says. Their captain, as it happens, is a professional teacher of music and choral director in civilian life, and their singing reflects his training. “We often sang,” the narrator says; “These songs lifted our spirits in times of sorrow and pain.” They are often accompanied by Private Mizushima, the central figure in the story, who has learned to play a particular kind of harp that is native to Burma.

Their singing is so important to them, as it turns out, that in an episode early in the film, it is literally their salvation. They have been well fed by the members of a remote Burmese village, which is somewhat surprising both to the occupying Japanese soldiers and to the viewer, and they are about to thank the villagers by singing a song of gratitude when they recognize the villagers’ trick—they have been surrounded by the British, who are hidden in the bush outside. In an attempt to lull the British into believing that they are unaware of the British presence, the Japanese begin to sing a song that Western audiences would immediately recognize as “Home, Sweet Home,” though the Japanese lyrics are of course different (and not understandable to the surrounding British). The Japanese are one command away from rushing out into what will most certainly be a suicidal attack on the British when, to the utter astonishment of the Japanese soldiers, the British begin to sing back to them, using the English lyrics to “Home, Sweet Home.” Gradually, both the Japanese and the British reveal themselves and the Japanese surrender without bloodshed, learning that in fact the war ended three days earlier.

The effects and implications of this scene are several and complex. First, the act of singing is portrayed as humanizing. One wonders what emotions and feelings Japanese audiences of the 1950s harbored upon seeing a recreation of the humiliating surrender of their soldiers and upon seeing the positive on-screen representations of Allied soldiers, who had been responsible for the deaths of so many of their fellow citizens, soldiers and civilians alike. As the scene unfolds, we see close-ups of the Japanese soldiers intercut with close-ups of the British as they all sing; the effect underscores the individual rather than the national identity of each person. Second, the act of singing is portrayed as communal, as a unifying act. Despite the fact that neither side understands what the other is singing, there is genuine communication between them; each recognizes the humanity in the other in ways they have not understood before. It is important to remember that like the Japanese soldiers in the film, Japanese moviegoers watching the film in 1956 for the most part would not have understood the English lyrics and would not have sensed their poignancy to the British soldiers or to English-speaking moviegoers outside of Japan. Further, it is unlikely that anything in Ichikawa’s moviemaking experience to that point would have given him any expectation that The Burmese Harp would have an international audience.4 Western viewers experience a little shock of recognition when “Home, Sweet Home,” as well as other Western music—indeed, Western Christian music—is played later in the film, intensifying the sense of human interconnectedness conveyed by the film for Western audiences as well as for Japanese audiences of the 1950s. An additional and perhaps unanticipated result of the exhibition of this film in the West was the increased perception of the Japanese on the part of Westerners as actual humans with actual human spirits and souls as opposed to the stereotypical “yellow peril” caricatures that saturated Western culture in the World War II years and following. Tony Rayns has written of the use of music, and especially the soldiers’ singing, that

the “big idea” underpinning the story is that music is a salve for the soul: its uses in combat (to send coded signals and to keep up morale) are trumped by its inherent beauty, its capacity to build bridges between opponents. … Homesickness is universal, it asserts, and so is the power of music.5

There are parallels rooted in Christian theology and ecclesiology between the singing by the Japanese soldiers and the singing of traditional hymns as practiced by Christians, particularly in worship. After the surrender of Mizushima’s company, he is sent by the British on a mission to try to convince another company of Japanese soldiers, who are still holding out against bombardment, to surrender and prevent unnecessary deaths. This means that for much of the rest of the film, Mizushima and his harp are separated from his comrades. When the soldiers sing, they must sing a cappella, a term that has come to indicate simply “without instrumental accompaniment,” but which, reflecting its historical roots, literally means “in the manner of the church.” The soldiers, now in a British prisoner-of-war camp, sing outdoors in the barbed-wire-enclosed compound, where the Burmese line up and listen to them. Although there is not a specific worship aspect of their singing as there would be in a Christian worship service, their singing in this context, as it is in the Christian context, is a participatory experience, one that strengthens the group as well as the individual and one in which each voice has meaning. At one point, a soldier tells Sarge, good naturedly, that Sarge cannot sing very well; Sarge confesses, “I’m probably the worst in the unit.” But even after making this wry observation, he sings lustily, embracing his role as valued participant. In addition, the nature of choral singing—in the military, in this case, as well as in the case of church singing—is that every member of the chorus/congregation has a part, a role, a responsibility, and that if any single member of the chorus/congregation does not participate fully, the final result—the song, the camaraderie, human communion, communion with God—will be less successful, less full, less vibrant than it would otherwise be. Further, the nature of singing in harmony, rather than in unison, is such that the parts that members sing are distinct and suited to their particular talents, which they have the responsibility, as members, to employ.

The Allied officers are unfailingly portrayed as decent human beings throughout the film. The British officer in charge of the onslaught against the hold-out Japanese unit agrees to halt the shelling so that Mizushima can convince the Japanese commander to surrender—the British officer even wishes Mizushima good luck in his endeavor. The Japanese unit is holed up in a mountainside cave-fortress, very similar to that portrayed in Clint Eastwood’s depiction of the system of tunnels and caves built by the Japanese soldiers defending Iwo Jima in Letters from Iwo Jima (2006). Viewers may wonder to what extent Eastwood or screenwriter Iris Yamashita may have been influenced by Ichikawa’s depiction of the tenacity of the Japanese forces in similar circumstances.6 Like the character Saigo in Letters, who fails to convince the remnant of the Japanese army to surrender rather than literally or in effect committing suicide, Mizushima fails in his attempt to convince the Japanese soldiers to lay down their arms. Wounded, he (like Saigo) is the only survivor of the Allied bombardment once it resumes.

When Mizushima regains consciousness, surrounded by the bodies of his Japanese countrymen, the music that plays under the scene is no less than the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” (Figure 1). One wonders to what extent the typical Japanese moviegoer would recognize this music, but its unexpected effect on Western viewers is pleasantly startling and engaging. The music is familiar to many of those viewers; it begins to evoke in them, particularly in those of the Christian faith, responses that Ichikawa may not have anticipated.7 Western viewers tend to relate some of their own more familiar spiritual—and in many cases specifically Christian—beliefs and questions to those of the characters whose stories they see on the screen, many of whom are Buddhists. In Letters from Iwo Jima, the Japanese soldiers are likewise depicted as arriving eventually at a fuller understanding of their American foes, whom they have considered savages until they have a series of conversations with a wounded American marine and are, at least in some cases, themselves treated well by their American captors. The commonality of the quest for meaning and purpose amid the trials of life is emphasized, despite the very different faiths of those participating in that quest.

Mizushima, recovering, begins his journey to rejoin his comrades, now in a prison camp. The journey is at first purely a geographical one, but as is often the case with cinematic journeys, it develops into a spiritual one. In order to avoid capture, either by the Burmese or by the Allies, he steals and wears the robe of a Buddhist monk, shaves his head, and poses as a monk himself (Figure 2). Ironically, as the Burmese peasants encounter him, they treat the disguised Japanese occupier as a holy man, and Private Mizushima is spiritually transformed by the ultimate results of war that he meets on his sojourn. In a series of some of the most powerful scenes in cinema, he encounters the bodies—innumerable, sprawled, grotesque, rigid, decaying—of fallen soldiers spread over the landscape, on mountaintops, in ravines, along the riverbanks. At one point, he stacks the bodies of several soldiers and ignites them, creating a funeral pyre; once the pile of ashes has burned down, he salutes it, a literal depiction of the words from the traditional English burial service, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” or perhaps of Genesis 3:19 (NIV): “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” These again are biblical references from which Western or Christian viewers may derive special resonance.

The spiritual change in Mizushima as he traverses the landscape is visible; he becomes introspective, contemplative, anguished, and, finally, mute. He is given a room in a monastery, but unable to sleep, he walks outside at night and hears singing: a hymn from a funeral service, he is told, for a Japanese soldier who has died that day. Hidden, he listens to the hymn being sung—a cappella, once again—by the assembled nuns. It is the nineteenth-century “One Sweetly Solemn Thought”; the lyrics, as sung, read:

One sweetly solemn thought
Comes to me o’er and o’er:
I’m nearer home today, today,
Than I have been before.

There is a succession of shots of the cemetery in which the service takes place. There are crosses throughout the cemetery, leading us to think that all of those buried there are Christians, but one of the last shots is of the tomb of “The Unknown Japanese Warrior/Burma, 1945/Lest We Forget.” Not only have these Anglicans erected this monument irrespective of the soldier’s nationality, they have also invoked the familiar military memorial epitaph “Lest We Forget” for this “unknown warrior” (Figure 3). The enemy has become part of the collective human “we,” a remarkable set of circumstances to be depicted by a Japanese director in a Japanese film in 1956. Although the hiding Mizushima probably does not understand the English lyrics he hears at the funeral, once again the British and the Japanese have communicated through music—in this case, a Christian hymn—without the benefit of a common spoken language. Mizushima is clearly deeply moved by this non-nationalistic, universal display of human empathy, this time of Christian origin.

Ichikawa was sometimes accused of sentimentality in his films, including specifically The Burmese Harp. Catherine Russell, for instance, called Ichikawa’s other famous anti-war film, Fires on the Plain,“one of the most powerful treatments of war in world cinema, at once absurd and surreal, with documentary-like authenticity. The Burmese Harp on the other hand, eschews irony for sentimentality.”8 Without using the specific word, Max Tessier finds Ichikawa guilty of sentimentality to the point of the destruction of the film:

The humanism Ichikawa declares he is searching for is tentatively manifest in a few films that are unfortunately not among his most successful. For example, the redemptive morality and vaguely mystical elements of Harp of Burma ruin a very fine subject.9

James Quandt, acknowledging the charge of sentimentality but finding Ichikawa’s work more complex nonetheless, said of Ichikawa’s films that they are “alternately, often simultaneously, sardonic and sentimental, deadpan and apocalyptic” and that “no matter how comic, sentimental, or humanist Ichikawas’s cinema, it is shot through with despair and anguish.”10 Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, on the other hand, rebutted entirely the charge of sentimentality:

No one else has his talent for eschewing the kind of sentimentalism that has permeated Japanese films in the past. His innate nature is to be dry, without a trace of sweetness. Even where one detects something cloying, … such work is invariably infused with a mordant and wry sensibility. I find it a uniquely Japanese irony that Ichikawa’s works, which are so far removed from what is after all the mark of truly Japanese superficiality—the tearjerker—have been accused of indulging in sentiment.11

In the specific case of The Burmese Harp, while it may be tempting to find it sentimental because of the beauty of the music, the collegial spirit of the soldiers, and the benevolence of the Allied forces, it is difficult to arrive at that conclusion given the graphic portrayal of the aftermath of war, of the bodies of the Japanese soldiers awaiting Mizushima’s ministrations (Figure 4). It is equally difficult to characterize a film as sentimental when in our last sight of its protagonist, he is trudging across a barren landscape whose rocks, we are told, are red with blood.

Sentimentality is often defined as the unnecessary use of emotion in a work of art—the existence of emotional force that is not warranted by the events and claims of the work. It is quite reasonable that the charge of sentimentality would be levied against a work of art by one who sees redemption in human experienceas not possible, one who would find such a depiction cloying, suspect, or even inherently false. But to a viewer who believes that the possibility of redemption is in fact a reality—including those viewers who believe in the divinity (as well as the humanity) of Christ and his claim of being the son of God and the subsequent salvation of his followers—human redemption is therefore not only possible, it is the expected outcome of faith and practice, the very crux of the Christian belief system. The emotional power of the depiction of human redemption as viewed by a believer, therefore, is warranted and hence, by definition, not sentimental. 

Near the end of the film, the soldiers learn that they are in fact to be repatriated. Although they yearn to be reunited with Mizushima and to have him return home with them to Japan, Mizushima, having undergone a profound spiritual change, has decided to remain in Burma. The men learn of his decision only when they are aboard a troop ship taking them home. The captain reads aloud a letter he has received from Mizushima. In it, Mizushima explains that he believes that he must remain behind to bury the thousands of dead Japanese soldiers, a task that he admits may take years to complete. His attempt to explain his call should resonate with Christian viewers:

As I climbed mountains and crossed rivers, burying the bodies left in the grasses and streams, my heart was wracked with questions. Why must the world suffer such misery? Why must there be such inexplicable pain? As the days passed, I came to understand. I realized that, in the end, the answers were not for human beings to know, that our work is simply to ease the great suffering of the world. To have the courage to face suffering, senselessness, and irrationality without fear, to find the strength to create peace by one’s own example.

Mizushima’s quest is nothing less than to understand the problem of evil. Mizushima, the accidental Buddhist monk-in-training, haunted by the misery he has observed (and perhaps has himself inflicted), is attempting to address the issue of evil and to atone for his own sins in a way that essentially parallels the quest of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha himself, several centuries before the birth of Christ. Like Mizushima, the Buddha sought an understanding of the existence of, as well as an escape from, suffering. Among the Buddha’s conclusions was that suffering is caused by craving and that to crave what cannot be is not to acknowledge reality. Mizushima’s determination to face suffering without fear is likewise his own attempt to acknowledge reality. The apostle Paul, also acknowledging the role that suffering plays in life and, specifically, in the Christian life, told the Roman Christians that they should not fear suffering but in fact should rejoice in their sufferings “because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character, and character, hope.” Mizushima’s quest, then, although not undertaken through the lens of the Christian faith, still parallels the quest of the Christian: to sacrifice oneself, to ease the suffering of the world, and to create peace by one’s own example. Most relevant for the Christian viewer is that Mizushima’s tentative conclusion echoes that of the book of Job, the sacred text that for Christians most embodies the problem of human suffering. God reminds Job at the end of that book that his ways are beyond the reach of human understanding. But God also vindicates Job even though he does not answer Job’s questions. Job says, “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. … But now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42: 3, 5, NIV).

The Christian viewer, then, of a film such as The Burmese Harp must struggle with the idea not only that evil exists, but with how that struggle can be portrayed effectively from an aesthetic viewpoint as well as from the Christian viewpoint. Does the depiction of the existence of pain, oppression, and death in any way undermine the Christian message of a powerful but benevolent God? Ron Austin has written:

The traditional religious view in the West is that God does not create evil, but, mysteriously, permits it. Evil pertains to a deeper reality. Evil can even reveal the Good that is the Mystery of God. Without a belief in God, evil is experienced as meaninglessness, the random effects of a more fundamental chaos, or, conversely, implies a mindless, inhuman fixity. No matter what our creedal belief, if one does not believe that the universe is, in some way, fundamentally ordered, then evil is a meaningless concept. Yet human beings experience something so fundamental, so negating and threatening, that no other word seems to suffice. To most of us, evil remains as real as pain and death.12

Austin goes on to argue as Mizushima might have argued, that the Christian, to use Mizushima’s (and Paul’s) words, must have the courage to face suffering without fear:

The “answer” to evil lies not in avoiding suffering but accepting it, as with death, as part of the human condition and allowing it to guide us. Simone Weil contends that classical tragedies such as those of Euripides or Shakespeare can properly be called sacred art when the work “consecrates a love for the good that is found only in the depths of affliction.” This means that if we are to cope with evil in any art form, we are challenged to transform it through truth and faith.13

Although it is not possible to assert that Ichikawa has made his movie in order to transform evil through faith, it is certain that he has attempted to grapple with the problem of evil. While his conclusion is humanistic, claiming the nobility of the task that Mizushima sets for himself but finding no apparent ultimate solution to the problem, the Christian viewer can at the very least understand that this search is a universal one faced by members of all faiths and nations. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian response to the film—and to the problem of evil itself—is that the Christian viewer concedes that we now see through a glass darkly but also asserts that we will then see face to face.

Although it is unlikely intentional on Ichikawa’s part, there is another important parallel between the Japanese soldiers in The Burmese Harp and the Christian church, between the military ethos and the Christian ethos. The notion of corporality, of the wholeness of the body that is possible only as a result of the determination of the members of the body to remain whole, is strong in both groups. The sense of the importance of belonging to a larger culture is powerful among the Japanese, perhaps much stronger than it now is among Westerners. Being a contributing member of the extended family, veneration of one’s ancestors, and having a sense of obligation to the group are all highly valued qualities in Japanese society, as they indeed are in the Christian church. Repeatedly throughout the film, the importance among the men of remaining together and of finding Mizushima—of bringing him back into the fold—is emphasized. Mizushima is the one who accompanies their singing, and they miss him for that reason alone; their singing, they feel, is incomplete without his presence. In the captain’s moving speech to his men after they learn that the war is over and they have surrendered, he emphasizes that he does not know their fate, whether they will be allowed to return home, or whether they will even be allowed to live. But he is adamant that they will experience their fate together, that they will live in Burma or die in Burma, but that they will do so as a unit—as a body—and that no man will be left behind. As the men approach their day of departure for Japan, they become nearly frantic in their attempt to find Mizushima, in their attempt to make the body whole. The captain’s vow that no man will be left behind is particularly ironic given the fact that they do leave a man behind, albeit despite their best efforts. And Mizushima stays behind at least in part in order, in his view, to minister to those who have themselves been left behind, their bodies strewn across the Burmese landscape. In fact, Rayns argues that given their emphasis on the corporate good, Mizushma’s decision to stay behind in Burma is alien to the Japanese way of thinking: “Mizushima is deeply conflicted: part of him longs to rejoin his comrades and return to Japan, but the need to right spiritual wrongs overwhelms him, and he behaves in a way that most Japanese find baffling.”14

Knowing now what Ichikawa could not have known in 1956 about the political and social future of Burma, we can speculate about how Mizushima, a young man in 1945, might have viewed some of the subsequent events surrounding the brutal military rule in his adopted country if he had lived and worked in Burma as a monk in the decades following World War II. He almost certainly would have lived to see the massacre of approximately 3,000 Burmese civilians by the military in 1988 when they protested political and economic conditions in their country; he might even have lived long enough to witness similar protests nearly 20 years later, in 2007. What made the 2007 protests, movingly documented in Anders Østergaard’s 2008 film Burma VJ: Reporter i et Lukket Land (Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country), so astonishing to the Burmese population was the participation of thousands of Burmese Buddhist monks, who marched peacefully in the streets along with students and other suddenly emboldened citizens. After a week during which government officials no doubt wrestled with how to deal with the thorny problem of dispersing enormous crowds led by the nation’s venerated holy men, to the horror of the Burmese populace, soldiers beat and indefinitely imprisoned hundreds of monks. As the narrator in Burma VJ points out, “in Buddhist thinking, we are never, ever allowed to do that.” The protests died out, and martial law was preserved. What would Mizushima’s position have been on the involvement of the Burmese monks in civil disobedience? As the narrator of Burma VJ also says, “Monks are not supposed to do political things. But when the people are suffering and starving, sometimes they rise to give their support.” Paul Knitter discusses the dilemma of personal involvement by the Buddhist as well as the Christian in the righting of social wrongs:

So while individual, personal Awakening and transformation are absolutely necessary to bring about social change (this is what Christians too often forget), it is not enough. Social, political, legal Awakening, and transformation are also necessary. (This is what, it seems, Buddhists too often forget.) We are dealing not only with socio-economic structures that harm others, even when they are populated by Awakened individuals. Besides personal karma, there is social karma. They both may have the same causes, but they inhabit different bodies.

Therefore, as a Christian, I feel that besides the personal introspection that is necessary to realize that all dukkha or suffering comes from tanha or greed, I must also engage in a social introspection to determine where greed is operating in legal or economic policies. While individual hearts and actions are the ultimate cause of social structures that produce suffering, we may often not be able really to understand and transform our hearts unless we also, at the same time, understand and transform social structures.15

Mizushima, whose heart was “wracked with questions,” who sought the strength “to create peace by one’s own example,” would have had to face the decision about what the Buddhist’s, and therefore his, role should be in social and political change, a decision debated by Christians as well.

For the Christian viewer The Burmese Harp offers emotional and aesthetic pleasure. But more importantly, just as the singing in the film itself builds emotional and spiritual connections among viewers from different times, places, and cultures, the film shows us that the search for ultimate meaning is shared by Christians and non-Christians. As Dennis Haack, an instructor at Covenant Seminary, attempts to find meaningful ways to connect spiritually with non-Christians, he often looks to the cinema for “creative windows of insight into the beliefs, values, fears and dreams” of those he lives and works with:

Thoughtful movies can be these creative windows of insight. Made by non-Christians, they provide a glimpse into the world as shaped by their world view. … Without for a moment giving up my own convictions as a Christian, such windows allow me to understand another person’s world from the inside.16

In other words, when we share the cinematic experience, we for a short time sing the same song in different languages.


  1. Joan Mellen, “Interview with Kon Ichikawa,” trans. Keiko Mochizuki, in Kon Ichikawa, ed. James Quandt (Toronto, Cinematheque Ontario, 2001), 73.
  2. Kon Ichikawa and Yukio Mori, “Beginnings,” trans. Daisuke Miyao, in ibid., 32.
  3. Donald Richie, “The Several Sides of Kon Ichikawa,” in ibid., 54.
  4. In fact, it was nominated for the Academy Award for best foreign film in the first year of the existence of that category; it was also exhibited at the Venice Film Festival, where it won the San Giorgio Prize and was nominated for the Golden Lion, Ichikawa’s first recognition by Western audiences.
  5. Tony Rayns, “Unknown Soldiers,” The Burmese Harp (Criterion, 2007), DVD booklet, 9.
  6. Ironically, Eastwood chose to use drastically desaturated color in his film as well as to have all the Japanese characters speak in their native language. The resultant effect in this contemporary retelling of the Japanese war experience is in some ways to replicate the experience of watching Ichikawa’s 1956 film—in black and white and with English subtitles.
  7. Ichikawa once said of his use of film music, “Music is really important. I always complain that Japanese musicians never write melodies. … I’m tone deaf but I can tell bad music from good by intuition. If you have the chance to use famous compositions in your film you should.” Yoko Oda, ed., Kon: All Film Works of Kon Ichikawa (Kyoto: Korinsha, 1998), 359.
  8. Catherine Russell, “The Burmese Harp/Fires on the Plain,” Cineaste 32.4 (Fall 2007): 63.
  9. Max Tessier, “Kon Ichikawa: Black Humour As Therapy,” trans. Robert Gray, in Quandt, Kon Ichikawa, 85.
  10. James Quandt, “Introduction: Ichikawa the Innovator, or the Complicated Case of Kon Ichikawa,” in Kon Ichikawa, 1, 9.
  11. Yukio Mishima, “Kon Ichikawa,” trans. Cody Poulton, in ibid., 13.
  12. Ron Austin, In a New Light: Spirituality and the Media Arts (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 12.
  13. Ibid., 13.
  14. Rayns, “Unknown Soldiers,” 12.
  15. Paul F. Knitter, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009), 200-201.
  16. Dennis Haack, “In the World, but Not of It,” Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, accessed September 25, 2010,

Stephen Parmelee

Stephen Parmelee is an assistant professor of English at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California, where he directs the undergradu-ate film studies program.