Saturday, March 17, 2007

March 17th Log

1956, Kon Ichikawa, Japan

1st Viewing, DVD

The Burmese Harp has just been released to DVD through Criterion Collection. It is one of the celebrated classics of Japanese cinema that I have been unable to see until today. I am very grateful to have the opportunity to see this film because it truly is a powerful one. This is the type of film that is moving and important. It has the power to inspire and to deeply resonant in the memory of the viewer. Made in 1956 the film deals with serious issues of pacifism and of life and death. The film is based on a novel by Michio Takeyama, and tells the story of a solider (Mizushima) who after World War 2 chooses to remain alone as a monk so he can bury the dead. Mizushima has been transcended spiritually towards enlightenment. Painful or lonely as it may be Mizushima is on a personal journey. He has gained a greater sense of meaning through the horror of war that he witnessed. The Burmese Harp expresses this through the haunting aftermath of war. The film also details this connection of the human soul with nature as we see dead bodies of soldiers throughout the peaceful contrast of the environment. The film closes with a title card reading: "In Burma, soil is red, so are rocks", which heightens the expression of soul and nature as a tragic one in the face of war. Today some moments may be deemed sentimental but only in the slightest. Kon Ichikawa has made a film that stands as an important one of the time, but its themes of peace and humanity deserve to be embraced on a universal level. There are so many powerful moments to this film (the soldiers singing as Mizushima plays the harp alone in the Buddha statute; Mizushima playing the harp for his friends; Mizushima’s goodbye letter). I still have yet to see most of Kon Ichikawa’s films, but The Burmese Harp was the film that earned him recognition throughout his native Japan and throughout the world (it won two awards at the Venice Film Festival). I plan of seeing his 1959 film, Fires on the Plain sometime next week. The Burmese Harp will be one of the films added to the website I am planning on launching in the near future- Floating Masters.

1968, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden
Repeat Viewing, DVD

Sometimes everything seems like a dream. It is not my dream but someone else's that I have to participate in. What happens when the one who dreamt us wakes up and feels ashamed?" Shame is a film unlike any other Ingmar Bergman film, yet deeply remains a Bergman film. Gone are the symbolic images and searching for meaning, existence, and a seemingly absent God. Shame is a film detailing the horrific effects war can have on the human mind and soul. The film starts rather quietly as we observe a couple, the Rosenberg's (played to perfection by Bergman regulars Liv Ullman and Max Von Sydow), living a simple and happy life. However, as the war moves closer towards them, we begin to see the betrayal and evil of mankind. The film takes place at an unknown country and the reasons for the war are not specified. What results is an eerie yet universal story. The second half of the film is particularly powerful as we see the pain and aftermath of the war. It is at this point that the couple must chose between love and survival. Bergman closes the film with consistent fades, silence, and horrific images of the depths and destruction of war without ever being heavy-handed or manipulative. Bergman is truly a master, and the undeniable power of his genius will connect with those who experience his films. Shame is yet another of his many masterpieces.


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