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Engaging with the Valley of Death: The Dialogue with Modernity in The Burmese Harp

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Abstract

Essentializing assumptions have marred a number of American and British readings of Ichikawa Kon’s award-winning anti-war film The Burmese Harp (Biruma no tategoto, 匕堅琴) (1956)1 and its relationship to its principal source, Takeyama Michio’s canonical narrative of the same title. Hypotext (novel)-hypertext (film)2 conflation has led to an apparently contagious tendency to confuse the novel’s plot with that of the film, and vice versa, to the point of misrecognition: overly simplistic in his description of the book’s narrative as “straightforward enough,” historian Louis Allen misrepresents the cardinal cave scene—a surrender in the book but a “massacre,” to some, in the film—by carelessly slipping from novel to film as if the two were identical, a crucial divergence over which Keiko I. McDonald also falters, but in reverse, by inadvertently substituting the novel for the film.3 Although this kind of error is not unusual in adaptation studies prior to the video cassette recorder era of the 1970s–1990s, that it and other essentializing tendencies in the reception of the film remain uncriticized is rather disquieting, since the texts in question are generally construed as “classics,” managed within secondary and higher education apparati, and highly significant within Japanese collective memory of the Fifteen Years’ War (1931–45).4

Keywords

  • Japanese Literature
  • Japanese Culture
  • Social Politics
  • Southeast Asian Study
  • Japanese Soldier

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© 2013 Lorna Fitzsimmons

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Fitzsimmons, L. (2013). Engaging with the Valley of Death: The Dialogue with Modernity in The Burmese Harp. In: Fitzsimmons, L., Lent, J.A. (eds) Popular Culture in Asia. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137270207_2

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