#147b : The Harp of Burma

[Intro: The Harp of Burma represents two episodes from the collective 1986 TV series Animated Classics of Japanese Literature.]

Could you recognize an old friend who reappears after some time like a ghost some how coming back to life in a physical body? Could you understand why a passing face that you know so well and would think that giving a simple greeting of hello would only give silence? Can you understand the emotion on someone’s face, knowing what it is like to be in their shoes? Often we look for our purpose in life, or end up believing the path we are on is our true direction. And then sometimes life happens to deliver you something else all together different out of the blue. The story of The Harp of Burma is perhaps one of the best tales of spiritual transformation affecting one individual’s life.

HoB_1World War II is winding down as we find a small Japanese unit near the Burmese border. The year is 1945 and to keep their morale high these soldiers often break into song. A young soldier by the name of Mizushima taught his comrades to sing and his musical skills would accompany them with a Burmese harp. It is this fraternal bond that holds the group together and it would be together that the news would arrive that the war these men had been fighting in for some time was now over. Captured and brought to a P.O.W. camp, they would wait until news from Japan would signal their return home. In the mean time Mizushima was asked to volunteer to join a group to alert another Japanese unit about the fact that the war was over. He would take this assignment, but in the process would not return, bringing sadness to his friends.

HoB_2The possibility of Mizushima being alive never left the spirits of his fellow compatriots. It was in a split second moment, a chance encounter with a passing Buddhist monk (priest in my sub translation) that the reality of Mizushima had indeed survived, or did he? The monk looked very much like him, but how could that be… Mizushima was a Japanese soldier, not a Buddhist monk? Who was this monk and why was he so silent and cautious towards the company of Japanese soldiers? Such is the mystery of The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp), originally a book by Michio Takeyama, which unfolds the tale of Mizushima. We follow his coming into contact with a monk’s robe and his sworn vow and duty to pay homage and respect to all his dead compatriots left behind on foreign soil.

HoB_3Animated Classics of Japanese Literature contained an interesting mix of stories from a meta-series that appears to be very plain and mundane if judged by appearance alone. Several of the episodes I came to enjoy, but The Harp of Burma really stood out; it moved me like few anime before or since. This was one of the best stories I have ever seen about both sacrifice and compassion. War and other traumatic situations always leave a scar to those who experience the event first hand, but does it also change something inside of you? Does that experience make you more apt to show kindness and gratitude, or even change your life direction at the drop of a hat? Dry eyes were non existent for me each time I saw the two episode special, particularly at the ending. So often we ask what can I do to make my life better, but how often do we ask, what can I do to ease someone else’s suffering with no expectation of anything in return?

HoB_4Well known in Japan, The Harp of Burma (The Burmese Harp) also exists as two live action film adaptations, both directed by Kon Ichikawa. His original version in 1956 is considered a classic and after watching the trailer I have strong interest to track down and watch this version. It reminds me of  Ingmar Bergman’s work from that era. It’s black and white, portrays serious character analysis and feels like a film made by crafted hands (no computers!): all yummy in my book. This can act as a great substitute if you can’t find the anime and of course there is always the original novel. It Is not very often I find anime like The Harp of Burma and it may not be too everyone’s liking, but in terms of expressing the human experience of transformation of the soul, The Harp of Burma is one of my all time favorites. Period!

#27b : The Rose of Versailles

For my original entry for The Rose of Versailles, click here.

Sometimes you have to recover your tracks in order to move forward. In terms of classic anime and in particular, The Rose of Versailles, I have a little more to say…

2019 Original Entry

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever re-watch certain shows that sit on my shelf or on a hard drive ever again? About a month or so ago I have given one particular show a second go and by the title of the entry it is of course The Rose of Versailles. It seemed like the right time. I didn’t question it, or wonder why. I just needed The Rose of Versailles. After a tough winter with nasty snows, isolation, some setbacks and a gnawing, or itch that chronically comes and goes, the The Rose of Versailles became a sea of calm and a vision of reassurance to say… hey, everything is will be ok. … OK time to get personal.

RoV1The Rose of Versailles has high regard for being a standard of anime excellence. Shojo perfection? Though I feel the show goes beyond the general demographic designation… as most anime does in any case. And with the show turning 40 this year of 2019, it still looks and presents flawlessly; a gorgeous visual masterpiece! The first half directed by Tadao Nagahama is bright and sparkly reflecting naive youth with the second half under the helm of Osamu Dezaki (GENIUS!) is gritty and intense showing the politics of revolutionary France. Beautiful and timeless, this is a show I am honored to share as a virtual twin (both RoV and I joined the world in 1979).

RoV2So what of the personal? The Rose of Versailles’ main protagonist. Oscar Francois de Jarjayes. is one of two women in anime that I whole heartedly admire; the other being Remy Shimada from GoShogun. Blonde, graceful, intelligent and independent speak to both ladies, but Oscar has something else, a particular fragility. Her sense of duty as a noble, a military commander and her enforced gender classification. Raised as a ‘boy’ and expected to follow into her father’s footsteps, much dysphoria abounds in the beautiful Oscar. This expectation of a gender role, to be a ‘man’ in public, tugs at the truth in her heart that she is a woman. Yet also the role of being a noble who has lived in luxury and comfort and seeing first hand the life outside the gilded cage. Being rich and powerful in a position of authority is not all that it is cracked up to be and the same goes for being a ‘man’ as well. To quote Alan Watts, “don’t envy rich people, it’s a great mistake. Don’t envy anyone.”

Personally I understand both of Oscar’s dilemma’s. I am not ‘rich’ in the way we often think with lots of money, fancy car and house, etc. I am comfortable, yes, as I live in the U.S. and have a ‘job’, but I have great health, my mind and intuitive senses. No amount of money can put a price on those three. Living in the affluent west and seeing much of the flash from TV screens, luxury items and being in stores with a glut of stuff… ok most of it can be classified as crap that is constantly being barraged through every sense imaginable. I must question, is this all life is? Is this to be my life? Living in a gilded cage of constant consumption where we are taught there is never enough and you have to bleed yourself dry in order to fit in? Like Oscar, I see the ‘nobility’ of our backgrounds as not real and limiting. Monarchy or capitalist state… looks about the same to me? We just need more corsets and petticoats instead of suits and wingtips. The other dilemma of playing the role of ‘being a man‘, what is that really? Only a facade?

RoV3In terms of the winter of discontent from 2018/2019, I had The Rose of Versailles as a catalyst to pull me out of my depression. Watching this time round made personal issues come into a better perspective; including waking up occasionally in pools of tears. Beyond these personal points, it is a show about love, politics, desires and revolutionary France with occasional sparkly eyes. God I love shojo anime! The Rose of Versailles, a bonfide masterpiece, oh how I love you.  I hope for this show, or any particular anime that you watch, you somehow take something of it with you to heart. Because sometimes a show is more a mirror of your inner psyche than just ephemeral entertainment. Think about that one!

2020 Addendum

A few things to add…

  1. I consider this a blessing that something odd and bizarre happened with the other entry as this allows me to proofread again…
  2. The tides of revolution that were prevalent in late 18th century France would seem a scary place to be… and yet in 2020, it is kind of at our front doors. If only open dialogue and discussion were the norm. Yet the tides of time of  current events seem to favor a showcasing of ignorance and arrogant soap boxing. I hope justice is not blind in terms of karma.
  3. I will admit early on I removed many references I had at the time in my 2019 writing that I was dealing with some gender dysphoria. This is not something I need to hide from, but as a private individual in a more conservative area, it is something that I feel I have to be discreet about.
  4. 2020… could this be the fall of the decadent West, the gilded cage, that I eluded to earlier? Or perhaps, an evolution towards true freedom?

#189 : The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love

We all need something to be glad about… to find the simple things that bring joy in either the moments of happiness, or difficulty. Can one individual have the power to spread this love to others? Of course it is possible and in many ways a child is the one who can often share this superpower. Eleanor H. Porter created such a character, Pollyanna Whittier, with the classic novels Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up. Both novels would be adapted into an anime that was featured in the lineup of the Nippon Animation’s hallmark series World Masterpiece Theater. Let us return to a tale known as The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love.

Pollyanna_1The more I watch any of the World Masterpiece Theater series, the more of a fan I become of these shows. Truly a treasure trove of well crafted stories that offer an alternative to the busier familiarity of mecha, magical girls and high school comedies. For this entry, Pollyanna and I had to wrap up some unfinished business. I watched approximately the first half of this 51 episode series back in 2015/2016 for a panel I was doing on 1986. This was my second World Masterpiece Theater show after Little Princess Sara. I enjoyed what I saw and had enough to work with for my panel, but that final half was nagging at me for years. Just recently I made a point to finish Pollyanna to the end. 1986 was a great year for anime on TV, ever here of Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Maison Ikkoku? What about Hikaru no Densetsu, or The Wonderful Wizard of Oz? All these shows I enjoyed or loved, but when I finished Pollyanna I never realized that I missed out on something special.

Pollyanna_2The first half of the series retells the Pollyanna novel with the second half adapting Pollyanna Grows Up. Beginning from humble origins to live with an aunt in need of a consciousness shift, Pollyanna would soon spread her kindness to the entire town of Beldingsville. Even with setbacks, some life threatening, Pollyanna preservers. She even brings her magic to Boston in the second half of the series to basically start the whole process over again. Along the way she meets othet children who become loyal allies and also saviors of her special touch of connecting good people together. I also cannot forget her most loyal companion, a furry friend because every show needs one, a chipmunk named… Chipmunk (Chipamunku!). Perhaps one of the most heart warming and surprising shows I have ever seen where in the second half a mystery unravels itself until the very end.

Pollyanna_3And I guess I just spoiled the plot? Not completely folks, I have only provided a skeleton to work off of. So many nuances are in Pollyanna that kept me going, but perhaps the one element that flavored my need to continue was a knock on wood usual contender… relationship dynamics. The way Pollyanna brings life back to everyone, inspires hope and delivers love in times of need lives up to the reputation of someone being a ‘Pollyanna’. The simple joy of being glad, or happy about the little things that we have in the present moment is something we often forget… so don’t forget it! 😉 The fact that your ‘family’ can come in any shape, size, or circumstance is shown that it does not matter who you are, or what has happened to you in life, when you allow love to permeate the hard ice exterior of isolation, or depression, you will be healed!

Pollyanna_4The Story of Pollyanna, Girl of Love… I can only say that my life now can be categorized as pre-Pollyanna and post-Pollyanna. The beauty of this show is that it can change lives, or continue to further influence those who are on the path to give some sort of love into a situation that is difficult. I don’t have children myself, but I deeply respect all of them for what those who I have met have influenced me as an adult to become a better human being. I do have a niece that I love dearly who reminds me of Miss Whittier as she has always been my staunch cheerleader all through out her life. I dedicate this entry to you Sophia… without you my life would not be the same.