In the Burmese Harp, Captain Inoye and Mizushima are in the same army unit, fighting in World War II against the British in Burma. Their relationship is essential to the movie and character development, influencing not only the two men but the other unit members as well. Even though the main character is Mizushima, Captain Inoye acts as his teacher, mentor, parent figure, and companion. He is unlike the Sargent and other unit leaders, specifically the leader of the unit hiding in Triangle Mountain. Those men are the epitome of military leaders, displaying manliness, blind courage and minimal emotions. On the contrary, Captain Inoye is humble, cannot hide what he is feeling, connected to his men emotionally, patient, and most of all, unconventional in his leading methods.
Instead of giving long speeches to his men about toughening up, killing the enemy mercilessly and concentrating on winning, Captain Inoye focuses on raising his men’s morale and keeping them mentally stable in the worst of times. By using singing, which is not considered to be very manly or military-like, the captain forces his men to stay connected to each other and their families left behind. He deeply cares about each man in the unit, making the effort to develop personal relationships with them. Moreover, at distressful times, Captain Inoye utilizes a practical, yet peaceful approach to finding solution and coping with the problem. For example, when the unit is captured by the British army, instead of violently retaliating and sacrificing his men’s lives in a battle that has already been surrendered, Captain Inoye encourages the men to compromise with dignity, and to find the positive side of the situation.
This further displays his wisdom, loyalty and proves to the viewer that he truly knows his duty, which is to look out for these men’s safety. It was because of this sense of obligation that Captain Inoye developed a personalized relationship with Mizushima. When the captain sent Mizushima on the Triangle Mountain mission, he knew he would be responsible for whatever happened to him; therefore, throughout the movie, the captain felt guilty and could not let Mizushima go until he knew of his fate for sure. Once he did know it, the captain felt at peace and accepted to move on, having fulfilled his moral duty and promise to Mizushima’s family and to the rest of the unit members.
The reason Captain Inoye and Mizushima were close was because they were very similar. Both were humble, appreciated emotions such as humor, singing and happiness in the worst of times. Also, Mizushima knew his duties, worrying about moral and ethical issues while the other men simply lived in the moment and thought about getting back to their materialistic lives. When Mizushima tried convincing the Triangle Mountain unit, he was echoing the captain’s lesson about the sacredness of every life. He took this lesson to heart and made it his mission to ensure that every life was respected even when it ended through burial. Like the captain, Mizushima was concerned about world values and injustices, always doing what was right and not following his own desires. It would have been easy for Mizushima to go back to his unit and it would have been easy for the captain to forget about Mizushima and move on; however, both men knew it had become their moral duties to choose the other way. By the end, both characters matured, reaching new moral, physical and emotional levels through their experiences and gaining a new vision of life. Contrary to others, who dreamed about getting back to their old lives on the trip back home, these men knew that life could not and should not be the same as before, which would mean that the dead had sacrificed their lives in vain.
Because of this maturity and cleared vision, Mizushima knew he had to choose another path in life, which would ensure that he contribute to society in some way. For this, he decided to become a monk as he could influence and guide people through his teachings, just as the captain had guided him in life. When he made his decision, Mizushima realized that he could not go back to his unit because fate had other plans for him. He could have died in the Triangle Mountain or simply gotten lost; however, fate guided him to the scattered dead bodies, making him their savior and guardian. He realized that he would let fate guide him further to his final mission in life instead of letting his emotions steer him, and if fate allowed, he would go back to Japan one day.