Harp of Burma
January 5, 2011
Harp of Burma is a novel by Michio Takeyama, first published in 1946. It was made into a movie in 1956, directed by Kon Ichikawa, who also directed Fires on the Plain. The movie is also known as The Burmese Harp. A color version and an animated version were made in the mid-80s, but I’ve yet to see them.
The temples and harp music of the movie are beautiful, but I read somewhere that a western harp was dubbed over the actual saung-gauk performances. For the curious, traditional saung-gauk recordings can be found in many places on the internet. The book provides a glimpse into traditional Burmese culture. Quite interesting when you consider the current turmoil of the region, now called Myanmar.
The main difference that I saw between the book and the movie concern Mizushima’s experiences immediately after visiting the soldiers holding out on the mountain. The movie’s version of those events is probably better crafted from an efficient storytelling point of view, because the book’s use of headhunters seems a little forced. Nothing against headhunters though. I love headhunters.
I mentioned in the Fires on the Plain post the importance of the character’s fateful interpretations of events and experiences. This is also found in Harp of Burma. The war is over and a company of Japanese soldiers has surrendered in Burma. Awaiting to be sent back to Japan, they debate the fate of their harp-playing comrade Mizushima, thoroughly examining the meaning of events and signs to determine if he still lives or not. Meanwhile, Mizushima also debates his future (with the help of a parrot) and interprets his discoveries as signs leading him to a new purpose in life.