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Fires on the Plain (1959)
"Nobi" (original title)

 -  Drama | War  -  3 November 1959 (Japan)
7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 2,806 users  
Reviews: 33 user | 31 critic

In the closing days of WWII remnants of the Japanese army in Leyte are abandoned by their command and face certain starvation.

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Title: Fires on the Plain (1959)

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Cast

Credited cast:
Eiji Funakoshi ...
Tamura
Osamu Takizawa ...
Yasuda
Mickey Curtis ...
Nagamatsu
Mantarô Ushio ...
Sergeant
Kyû Sazanka ...
Army surgeon
Yoshihiro Hamaguchi ...
Officer
Asao Sano ...
Soldier
Masaya Tsukida ...
Soldier
Hikaru Hoshi ...
Soldier
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Shizuo Chûjô
Jun Hamamura
Tomio Hanano
Yûzô Hayakawa ...
(as Yuji Hayakawa)
Keiichi Hosokawa
Tatsuya Ishiguro
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Storyline

It is the Philipines, 1945. The Japanese Imperial Army has been reduced to a ragtag mob hiding in the jungles. Among them is Pvt. Tamura. The situation goes from bad to worse and in the face of the brutal conditions facing the men, some go insane and resort to murder and cannibalism. In the midst of this, Pvt. Tamura tries to survive without giving up his principles. Written by Eugene Ly <euge.ly@utoronto.ca>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | War

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

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Release Date:

3 November 1959 (Japan)  »

Also Known As:

Fires on the Plain  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In order to achieve maximum authenticity, actors were fed very little, and were not permitted to tend to matters of simple hygiene such as brushing their teeth and cutting their nails. As a precaution against serious deterioration of the actors' health, a number of nurses were always on call on the set. Eiji Funakoshi was never specifically told not to eat. He willingly starved himself to help get him into character. The rest of the cast and crew were unaware of this until he collapsed on-set. Production was shut down for two weeks. See more »

Quotes

Tamura: [to soldier who suddenly has stopped moving] Hey, are you dead?
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User Reviews

 
FIRES ON THE PLAIN (Kon Ichikawa, 1959) ***1/2
9 May 2007 | by (Naxxar, Malta) – See all my reviews

This is undoubtedly the most harrowing black-and-white war film that I've watched; as a matter of fact, the only Western director during this time to remotely approach its level of intensity and sheer visceral power in his work was Samuel Fuller. By the way, I had attended a Kon Ichikawa retrospective at London's National Film Theatre in September 2002, but only managed to catch some of his work made between 1960 and 1973.

The film is certainly as depressing as it's reputed to be; however, it also displays welcome touches of black humor throughout - the 'dead' man who wakes up to answer a querying soldier and promptly 'dies' again, the deliciously ironic shoe exchange sequence, a moribund eccentric telling the famished hero which part of the body he should eat, etc. Incidentally, the script was written by a woman - Natto Wada, the director's own wife!

Ichikawa is a versatile and prolific film-maker whose reputation may not be as high as it was during his peak years (1956-65), but his direction here is often striking - the startling pre-credits sequence (the hero is violently rebuked by his superior officer for being discharged from hospital earlier than expected!), the death of a surrendering Japanese at the hands of a gun-toting Philippine woman, the bombing of a hospital (with the medical staff running away to save themselves, leaving the wounded soldiers behind to crawl out of the shack at their own limited pace), the automated march in the rain of the disillusioned soldiers (which also involves the afore-mentioned business with the shoes that, actually, recalls a similar scene in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT [1930]), a hill littered with the bodies of soldiers attempting to climb it, the finale, etc. Surely one of the film's major assets is the stunning cinematography of the unforgiving and desolate muddy landscape.

The film is notorious for treating the taboo subject of cannibalism (almost 10 years before it became a staple of horror movies) but Ichikawa's approach is not only subtle but highly effective: the flesh is actually referred to as "monkey meat", while the hero is seen partaking only once (and promptly spits out the piece along with most of his decaying teeth!); conversely, when the weak underling soldier (played by Mickey Curtis who, despite his name, was a Japanese pop idol of the time!) rabidly indulges, the ground nearby is splashed with blood.

In the supplements, Ichikawa remembers that Method-practicing lead actor Eiji Funakoshi (whose portrayal is unforgettable, by the way) arrived on the set at starvation point - with the result that production was forced to shut down for two weeks until he recuperated! Donald Richie's perceptive interview favors the nihilism of the film over the underlying patriotism behind such gut-wrenching recent Hollywood fare as SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998).

FIRES ON THE PLAIN is universally considered to be one of its director's top efforts and, out of the several films of Ichikawa I've watched, the closest to it in spirit are THE BURMESE HARP (1956; another character-driven war film but with a spiritual tone, and which is also available on DVD from Criterion) and ENJO aka CONFLAGRATION (1958; which was actually given a limited theatrical showing locally, as part of a foreign-film week, a couple of years ago). Personally, I also have a particular soft spot for the director's stunningly stylized color extravaganza, AN ACTOR'S REVENGE (1963), which I've actually caught twice at the NFT in 1999 and the afore-mentioned 2002 retrospective.


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