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 <email@example.com>
This film has a 100% rating based on 16 critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. See more »
Dying Buddhist soldier:
[to Tamura as he opens his eyes]
What? You still here? Poor guy, when I'm dead, you can eat this.
[He outstretches his arm]
Dying Buddhist soldier:
[Disgusted by the thought, Tamura leaves]
Come back! You can eat me!
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You don't see films like this anymore. 'Fires on the Plain' is an incredible depiction of the lives of the soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army. Kon Ichikawa's masterpiece follows Tamura, a soldier with Tuberculosis as he wanders around the Philippine landscape in the last year of the war. He is sent away to the hospital by his commanding officer only to be refused treatment and so he is sent back. His CO tells him to go back and if they refuse him again then his last order is to kill himself with his grenade. He is refused again, but meets up with a band of squatters sitting outside the hospital. The next day they are shelled by American troops and Tamura flees, choosing not to kill himself, and from there he wanders from place to place trying to get to Palompon. He discovers that some men have been eating human flesh in order to survive, while others trade as much tobacco as they can for whatever they can get back.
The film is filled with a quiet sense of desperation and desolation, with a hint of insanity. Everyone we see is skin and bones, covered in dirt wearing torn and tattered rags. Ichikawa uses his camera to catch some beautiful shots of the destructed landscape and the Japanese soldiers who walk it. Kon Ichikawa was famous in Japan for making many comedies and satires, and there are moments in Fires on the Plain that are bitingly hilarious. Take for example a shot of what appears to be a dead man lying face down in a pool of water; a soldier walks but and asks himself aloud if that is how they will all end up, to which the man lifts his head out of the water and replies "what was that?" and then drops his face even deeper into the puddle than before. Another hilarious sequence involves one man finding a pair of boots along the trail. He takes the boots, replacing them with his old ones. Another man walks by and sees that pair of boots and switches up for his old boots. The scene continues until finally Tamura finds the exchange spot and examines the boots left without hardly any sole. He looks carefully at his own and at ones on the ground, and deciding that they're both kaput he removes his own and goes barefoot. The film is filled with incredible scenes, one after another. Like Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, Ichikawa knew how to use his camera to paint beautiful and stunning pictures. There are many stunning shots of men in barren empty plains surrounded by nothing but smoke in the air and dead or dying bodies on the broken earth. There is another incredible scene where dozens of Japanese soldiers attempt to cross a road guarded by Yanks in the middle of the night, all crawling on their hands and knees as the camera watches on from above.
The film gets its name from the columns of smoke rising up from fires on the plains seen throughout the film. They represent to the soldiers life a little more ordinary; the lives of Japanese farmers back home burning husks of corn. Their beacons of hope for the normal life however are in hostile hands.
The film caused a stir in its day with its graphic content. Much emphasis is placed on the horror of war, not just with the enemy but within your ranks and yourself. Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plains is an incredibly authentic and moving, and somewhat disturbing, portrait of the horror suffered by the men making up the lower ranks of the Imperial Army. Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, while it is a very good film, comes nowhere close to realizing the horror of war depicted in Fires on the Plain. (Eastwood was no doubt influenced by the film, seeing as he claims to be such a classic Japanese film buff.) Many war films show that war is hell through the eyes of the winners. In Fires on the Plain, we're shown that war is even more hellish when you're on the losing end
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