Harp of Burma (aka The Burmese Harp) (1956): Japanese Ichikawa’s Powerful, Oscar-Nominated Anti-War Film

Year 1 of the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar Category

In the first year of the foreign-language Oscar category, the five nominees were: Fellini’s “La Strada” from Italy, which won, “The Captain of Kopenick,” from the the Federal Republic of Germany, “Gervais” from France, “Harp of Burma” from Japan, and “Qivitoq” from Denmark.

he Burmese Harp
The Burmese Harp Nikkatsu 1956 poster.jpg

Set at the end of WWII, Kon Ichikawa’s powerful anti-war drama “Harp of Burma” (aka “The Burmese Harp”) relates the story of a Japanese soldier who stays in Burma after the War, transformed by a Buddhist spiritual awakening, which drives him to bury each and every dead soldier.

Grade: B+ (**** out of *****)

In 1985, Ichikawa remade The Burmese Harp in color with a new cast, and the remake was a major box-office success. It became the number one Japanese film on the domestic market that year and the second largest Japanese box office hit up to that time.

Harp of Burma was praised for Ichikawa’s use of the Burmese landscape and the eerie power of its Buddhist statuary and architecture to sustain the mood of Mizushima’s conversion and the mystification of his Japanese comrades.

The feature was Ichikawa’s first film released internationally, but the 143-minute film was condensed to 116 minutes, despite his objection.


The movie was released in English-language countries before the novel was first translated to English.  The film was released on DVD by The Criterion Collection in March 2007.

Director Ichikawa

Born in 1915, Ichikawa studied animation and made his debut with a puppet film, A Girl of Dojo Temple, in 1946, the negative of which was reportedly confiscated and destroyed by the American Army.  After making several comedies and satires that earned him the label of “the Japanese Frank Capra,” he made a number of anti-war films, imbued with powerful poetic images.


Among his other films is Fires on the Plain (1959), which describes the horrors of the war in graphic, chilling terms by centering on the cannibalism among defeated Japanese soldiers. 


Oscar Nominations: 1

Best Foreign Language Film

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar was Fellini’s La Strada.