Kon Ichikawa Alastair Stewart - Essay

Alastair Stewart

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

What [The Burmese Harp] says is perhaps this: There are certain men who take it upon themselves to live unselfishly as far as they can, perhaps because it gives purpose to their actions. To do this takes internal and external courage. Contact with peaceful eternity follows the realization that all selfish endeavour achieves nothing….

The harp is symbolic from the start. But at the start the symbolism is crude and sentimental. This is not only justifiable, but also right. For here, things are represented as they appear to the Universal Private. He reminisces. To him the harp represents brief rests and that incentive to continue, a more enduring peace. It represents the pains a clever friend will go to, to provide a little home comfort a long way from home. (p. 27)

The Burmese Harp works on three levels. The situation is seen from three points of view: that of the Universal Private (all the men of that and any other platoon), that of a captain, and that of a developing saint. The three are unified by the overlapping of experiences and characterization. The captain is halfway between plain man and saint. He is a gentleman warrior by vocation. He understands Mizushima, but is not himself of saintly calibre. The presentation of three points of view creates an illusion of three-dimensional reality. Mizushima's ascent in the hierarchy of understanding, from a plain man with a difference to a saint, is...

(The entire section is 435 words.)