Monday, February 02, 2009

Anti-War Films

I'm interested in developing a list of high-quality films that deal with themes of opposing war and/or violence, peacemaking, and the like. After my wife and I saw Joyeux Noel (which bowled us over), I began to look around -- sort of haphazardly, I admit. Now we have seen the 1956 (!) Japanese film, The Burmese Harp, and I'm urged on in my mission.

Harp is set at the end of World War II -- in Burma, as one might expect from the title (although most of the filming was done in Japan). It "chronicles a Japanese soldier's transformation after coming face to face with the human cost of war" (to quote the Netflix jacket). Corporal Mizushima is sent to persuade a hold-out company of Japanese soldiers that they should surrender, since Japan herself has surrendered. But when they refuse, he ends up the sole survivor of a British rocket attack on the soldier's fortress. On his lonely trip back to his regiment, which have been interned in a POW camp to await their return to Japan, he is overwhelmed by the carnage he sees. And he changes his path in order to serve a higher purpose.

In addition to the touching story line, there is amazing black-and-white photography (the director has clearly studied Kurosawa), lovely character development -- and music (also perhaps not surprising, given the title). Mizushima plays a Burmese-styled harp with grace and beauty with the encouragement of his company commander, who is himself a trained musician who turns the troupe into a choir. So there is gorgeous male-chorale singing (involving both Japanese and British/Indian troops). And the score includes a most effective use of what came to be Bach's "O Sacred Head Now Wounded."

Kathy cried through much of the last half hour of the movie -- with good reason, I admit. And I heartily recommend it.

Next, I'm planning to revisit All Quiet on the Western Front. I read the novel way before I could make sense of it, but was moved by it to think about the immorality of war even in middle school. So I need to see the movie again.

But I'm wondering what you think should go on the list. I've seen lots of pro-war movies that have made me understand the insanity of war, and I suppose they could go on the list. And I know of movies that accurately portray the horrors of war, and those are valuable, too. But at this point, I'm especially interested in pictures that are or seem to be explicit in their criticism of war as a solution to anything or that promote a self-conscious (or maybe I mean self-aware) pacifism.

Here's your chance to help me out.

1 comment:

Camassia said...

Well, there's always Superman IV: The Quest for Peace!

Seriously though, I can think of a lot of movies that express anti-war sentiments, but few that are completely unambiguous about it. There were any number of anti-nuke movies during the Cold War, but the issue seemed to be the power of the weapons rather than the whole idea of using weapons. In the original Day the Earth Stood Still, for instance, our alien savior says that we'd better make peace or he'll blow us all up.

Speaking of anti-nuke movies, I've heard that the original Japanese cut of Godzilla is a lot more explicit about its Hiroshima analogy than the American version. It's apparently a lot grimmer about the consequences of violence than its countless radiation-monster-movie brethren. But I haven't seen it myself.