The movies “Twenty-Four Eyes” by Keisuke Kinoshita and “The Burmese Harp” by Kon Ichikawa look at the expansion of militarism in Japan in the middle of the 20th century and the adverse effects of war on the life of common people from the different perspectives. Kinoshita looks at the situation in the country from the point of view of a school teacher, Hisako Oishi, who teaches the students to respect traditions and value human life in her own example.
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At the same time, Ichikawa describes the life of Japanese soldiers who were forced to hide in the Burmese jungles carrying the burden of guilt and loss. The movies share common ideas about the significance of common values such as family bonds and friendship, love for peace, ethics, and culture. The directors successfully demonstrate how the trust in virtues and art may help people to overcome even the most difficult challenges caused by war, remain loyal to their own ideals, and restore belief in one’s goodness.
In both of the pictures, great importance is given to the individual relationships with cultural heritage, traditions, and values. Ichikawa and Kinoshita use musical themes, folk songs, and natural scenes to show the connectedness of the characters to their homeland. Music and kindness are represented as powerful instruments for overcoming distress and soothing emotional pain. For example, in “The Burmese Harp,” the retreated soldiers, who were tired of constant struggle for survival in the war, supported their hope for better by singing songs about homeland accompanied with the harp:
“Autumn nights that deepen
Make a heavy pilgrim’s heart.
Thoughts go back afar.
To the bosom of loved ones home” (“The Burmese Harp”).
The songs and musical scenes contrast the overall military context in the movie and emphasize the whole futility and violence of the political misleading. In the movie, the harp becomes the symbol of peace and stability, and the music created by Mizushima and his companions may be perceived as a method of passive protest, which eventually saves their lives.
Similarly to the soldiers from Ichikawa’s picture, Hisako Oishi attempts to support peace in the country that comes through the heavy imposition of political opinions and expansion of militarism. The first scenes of “Twenty-Four Eyes” are serene and calm like the life of rural citizens, and these pictures perfectly reflect the character and inner qualities of the teacher who attempted to cultivate the love for kindness and beauty in children through her unusual educational activities.
However, the events continued to unfold, and her students were taken to war where many of them died. While losing the family members, friends, and beloved students in war, Mrs. Oishi didn’t become filled up with anger and hatred to the national enemies but steadfastly came through the sorrows considering the war nothing but a consequence of delusion.
In the scene that took place after the end of the war was declared, Daikichi sat sadly at the dinner table because Japan didn’t win. He asked his mother if she will cry because Japan lost the war, and Mrs. Oishi answered: “I cried all night. I cried for the dead” (“Twenty-Four Eyes”). Her reply demonstrates the depth of the teacher’s compassion and the scope of her grief for both her close ones and for the country, and the world as a whole.
In both movies, the directors focused on the experiences of the common people rather than on the direct criticism of the political situation. And such a shift in focus provokes a great effect on the viewers who comprehend the hopelessness and sorrows which the simple people had to come through by the will of political forces. In this way, Kinoshita and Ichikawa revealed the implications of the war for each individual who became the victim of the situation and was compelled to piece together his/her broken life.
“The Burmese Harp (1956).” Online Video. YouTube. 2013. Web.
“Twenty-Four Eyes (1954): Aren’t you going to cry because we lost?” Online Video. YouTube. 2012. Web.