Cast & Crew
Private Mizushima is part of a Japanese fighting unit stationed in Burma during the final days of World War II. Popular with his fellow soldiers, he often plays for them on a handmade Burmese harp, which he also occasionally uses as a warning signal. When the war ends and the British move his unit to a prisoner-of-war camp at Mudan, Mizushima volunteers to persuade a garrison of mountain fighters to surrender. He fails in his mission; the garrison is destroyed, and he barely escapes with his life. After being nursed back to health by a Buddhist monk, Mizushima takes one of the monk's robes and sets out on the long road back to Mudon. Along the way, he passes countless battlefields strewn with the corpses of his dead countrymen, and whenever he is able, he buries or burns their bodies. Before reaching his destination, he is deeply moved by the scene of a group of British soldiers and nurses holding a memorial service for unknown Japanese dead. When he arrives at Mudon, the men of his unit are uncertain as to whether or not this mysterious monk is their friend. On the day of their departure for Japan, however, they learn that Mizushima has resolved to remain in Burma to bury the thousands of Japanese soldiers killed in battle.
Kon Ichikawa (1915-2008)
He was born on November 25, 1915, in Ise, Japan. Ichikawa built on a long standing fascination with art and animation when, after formal schooling, he moved to Kyoto to work at the animation department of J.O. Studios. Working his way up the studio ladder, he eventually made his first film, a 20 minute short called A Girl at Dojo Temple (1946) using a cast of puppets.
He spent the next few years working on small, but well-received features such as Endless Passion (1949), Stolen Love (1951) and Mr. Poo (1953) before scoring a breakout hit with his moving, sweeping epic The Burmese Harp (1956). The film, about a Japanese soldier (Shoji Yasui) who becomes a Buddhist monk and devotes himself to burying his dead comrades, was acclaimed for its strong humanity and meditative tone. It won the San Giorgio Prize at the Venice Film Festival and put Ichikawa on the map as a major talent.
Ichikawa would continue his solid streak throughout the '60s: the devastating, often horrific war drama Fires on the Plains (1959), the moving family drama Ototo (1960); a fascinating look at Japanese male virility in Kagi (1960, a Golden Globe and Cannes Festival winner); the strong social document The Outcast (1962); the gender bending An Actor's Revenge (1963); and his stunning observations of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for Tokyo Olympiad (1965) which won a BAFTA winner for Best Documentary.
Although he would never quite scale the same artistic heights of the '50s and '60s, Ichikawa, ever the consummate filmmaker, would continue to have domestic hits in his native Japan in a variety of molds: social satire I Am A Cat (1975); the pulsating period piece The Firebird (1979); the sentimental, but beautifully photographed domestic drama, The Makioka Sisters (1983); and arguably, his last great film, the samurai epic 47 Ronin (1994).
Ichikawa was still directing theatrical and television movies well into his 80s and never officially retired. His last film was The Inugamis (2006). He was married to screenwriter Natto Wada from 1948 until her death in 1983. He is survived by two sons.
by Michael T. Toole
Kon Ichikawa (1915-2008)
Released in Japan in 1956 as Biruma no tategoto.