Fires On The Plain

"Excellent"

Fires On The Plain Review


A follow-up to his masterful and memorable Burmese Harp, Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain is another searing anti-war exercise that makes its point simply by showing the suffering and degradation of Japanese soldiers abandoned and left to their own devices in the Philippines as World War II winds down.

Tubercular soldier Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) has been sent away from his small unit to seek care at a field hospital with orders to kill himself rather than return in his sick condition. Along the way, he's spooked by columns of smoke rising from the jungle, fires he fears may be tended by American soldiers or Filipino guerrillas. Eventually he finds the hospital, or rather the thatched hut that serves as a last stop for many dying soldiers who obsess over finding just one more yam to eat. When an air raid blasts the place to smithereens, Tamura steps through the corpses to look for salt and yams himself.

His miserable journey takes him to an abandoned seaside village where he bumps into two young Filipino lovers and feels compelled to shoot the woman when she screams. He also prepares to surrender to an American but then sees another surrendering soldier murdered in cold blood by a Filipina guerrilla. Abandoning his gun, he limps on, his boots in tatters, not knowing what he'll find next.

Overjoyed to encounter two other Japanese soldiers, Yasuda (Osamu Takizawa) and Nagamatsu (Mickey Curtis), he joins them on their hike to an evacuation ship but is extremely disturbed by their not-so-funny jokes about cannibalism.

As starvation takes hold and hope for a safe escape dwindles, the three begin to turn on each other, eyeing each other with fear and suspicion. Who's got the knife? Who's got the grenade? What is one man willing to do to the other two in order to survive just one more day? We eventually get the answer in a horrific scene that makes it clear that even if a war is allegedly launched for lofty political ideals, in the end it's simply an expression of man's inhumanity to man and his terrible animal instincts.

Legend has it that filming on Fires in the Plain had to be delayed because method actor Funakoshi arrived on set so emaciated and malnourished that he was taken ill for two months. Well, he doesn't look much better as the cameras roll. He's a haunted and haunting presence, and the close-ups of his bedraggled face as his situation deteriorates are intense. Even more gripping is Curtis's Nagamatsu, who goes so native by the end that he hardly looks human. The craftsmanship of this film is remarkable both in front of and behind the camera. Anyone who wants to argue for the nobility of war should watch this film first and then see how their argument holds up.

DVD note: The Criterion Collection disc includes an interesting introduction from noted Japanese film scholar Donald Richie and recent interviews with Kon Ichikawa and actor Mickey Curtis, who recounts the many physical hardships the cast had to endure to achieve Ichikawa's vision.

Aka Nobi.

The fire on the plain rains mainly on the Japanese.



Fires On The Plain

Facts and Figures

Run time: 108 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 3rd November 1959

Distributed by: Edward Harrison

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 14

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Kon Ichikawa

Producer:

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