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Nobi (1959)

Not Rated | | Drama, War | 3 November 1959 (Japan)
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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Cast overview, first billed only:
Eiji Funakoshi ...
Osamu Takizawa ...
Mickey Curtis ...
Hikaru Hoshi ...
Mantarô Ushio ...
Masaya Tsukida ...
Yasushi Sugita ...
Yoshihiro Hamaguchi ...
Yoshio Inaba
Jun Hamamura
Asao Sano ...
Shin Date
Kôichi Itô
Kisao Tobita


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>

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Acclaimed by Many as the Greatest War Film Ever Made


Drama | War


Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

3 November 1959 (Japan)  »

Also Known As:

Fires on the Plain  »

Filming Locations:


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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


Official submission of Japan for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' category of the 32nd Academy Awards in 1960. See more »


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

The Dead Sun
30 September 2006 | by (New Zealand) – See all my reviews

The main achievement of this film is that though racially unipolar, the film still manages to carve out a tableaux of war portrayals that leave a lasting identification with whoever may view it, and whoever was present at this time. Though good films may have the ability of universalizing their subjects, which is often a hard thing to do; great films have the ability of universalizing their unipolar subjects, which is what this film does.

Instead of carving a context of unity, the film depicts the Japanese in the sick finality of the Phillipines war-front in February, 1945, making signs for pacifism or war, but rather making signs of the feelings, death, destruction, victory and sickness of war with the bloody hands of the defeated.Far different, and superior, to films such as Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, both which needed a satirical methodology of trivializing and depersonalizing the American troupes, and using all races as one struggle, which is fine, yet not as grand as a film that uses one race and view, which would look fascist if created in America, to convey the horror of war and show what it is really like.

The only way the main character makes it through this movie to the end, is by being sick, thence inedible; hence through this character, through his sickness, his saving face, we see the end of WWII in the Phillipines in February of 1945, and the way in which the Americans, Japanese and Phillipinians came together in bloody acts of warfare where you live to die.

The film is patently influenced by a neorealist way of filmic portrayal, which is original and beneficial to a viewer, whether then or now, for the neorealist techniques it employs conveys all the horrors of war in pictorial form, whether a showcase for pacifism or 'militaristic responsibility'. Like Germania Anno Zero, by Roberto Rossellini, a story emerges from the environment and the conditions associated with it.

The film's opening, with the two-way discussion between the two Japanese soldiers, prefigures and reechoes the events. Through this opening we feel that the struggle is human against human, and human with human; it shows that they relied on each other to face the enemy in the past battles, but now, in this opening, or 'pivot' of the experiences of the Japanese in the Phillipines, new information is relayed to the main character Tamura, giving a presentiment of a cannibal reliance on one another if they wish to survive.

The jungle is gritty, wet and thick, and the sky is not infrequently cloudy and pouring. We wade with the stragglers though puddles and marshes, as sick as the land around them. Nameless cadavers are strewn everywhere. Every now and then one can not tell if they are bodies, rocks or corn. Apparently there is no difference here, all is dead and sick. All is dying. All they have lest to feed upon are rare monkeys and dead bodies of fallen comrades and/or nameless enemies.

Often Tamura meets a fallen other near death. Though crushed in spirit, and crushing his, some offer up their bodies for him to eat, but he refuses; he still, like Hiroshi Kawaguchi as Nishi in Giants and Toys, will not droop into the death of dignity and Japanese morals; for this is all he really has to hold up for his survival, a dignity of self. Hence, when Nagamatsu is dissecting a soldier for consumption, he shoots him because of it. Tamura may be used to the killing, but to the sickness of killing and pillaging he can't decipher. He is neither a good man or a bad man. He wishes to survive, but will not go the extra mile beyond simple straight-war-killing. His self belonged dead on the battlefield, he isn't happy here to wade and wipe the weak for his survival.

The sickness he carrys he sees everywhere, in everyone; and sadly he lacks the ethical rationale of thinking either thinking entirely about others, since he can't give up his body for them since of his contagious malady, or thinking entirely about himself, since he sees the sickness in everyone, though still killing them even if they do no harm. Seen in his attack on the two Philippians's in the hut. He can't see anyone. No one can see anyone. The only see an aversion from malady and an adversion to health, the heart of survival instincts.

Often, an arm appears pointing to the left of the screen, towards what must be hope, for there, in that far Thule lies their freedom. Yet it is blocked by American soldiers, leaving the Japanese stragglers to slowly die in this disconsolate dirt. Even a church tower appears, reflecting the light off an unseen sun. But on closer inspection crows flutter wildly about it; religion too is an air of poison.

Nobi, the Japanese title of the film, gives more evidence to the themes, or feelings of the film: the servitude to fate, the heaviness of existence under leaders and lives controlled by others. Its proper Anglophone translation has a subject of heavy debate among historians, as non-Koreans translate it as "slave" and "slavery", while many Koreans argue that nobi was not a slave system, but a servant class system that does not meet the criteria for slavery. A way to typically to escape wrenching poverty. This improves upon the war theme, and symbolism of soldiery.

Isn't it important at the time period to ask ourselves what the purpose is of what will become our won history? Should we be comfortable of letting it unroll without conscious effort for change? Is it not who we are fighting, that age old history question, but rather why are we fighting? Fires on the Plain is with Eiji Funakoshi, Osamu Takizawa, and Mickey Curtis; based on a novel by Shohei Ooka. In Japanese with subtitles.

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