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Fires on the Plain -  Criterion Collection
Fires on the Plain - Criterion Collection
Actors: Eiji Funakoshi, Mantarô Ushio, Yoshihiro Hamaguchi, Osamu Takizawa, Mickey Curtis
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
UR     2007     1hr 48min

An agonizing portrait of desperate Japanese soldiers stranded in a strange land during World War II and the lengths they go to survive, Kon Ichikawa?s Fires on the Plain is a compelling descent into psychological and physi...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Eiji Funakoshi, Mantarô Ushio, Yoshihiro Hamaguchi, Osamu Takizawa, Mickey Curtis
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Creators: Setsuo Kobayashi, Setsuo Shibata, Tatsuji Nakashizu, Hiroaki Fujii, Masaichi Nagata, Natto Wada, Shohei Ooka
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Military & War
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Black and White,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/13/2007
Original Release Date: 07/25/1962
Theatrical Release Date: 07/25/1962
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 48min
Screens: Black and White,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 11
Edition: Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

John Cardenas | Ontario, CA United States | 06/27/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a film about man in extremis. Retreating, defeated batallions of Japanese soldiers in WWII on the island of Leyte in the Phillipines find themselves sinking ineluctably toward barbarism. The wounded, the desperate, the starving--all are paraded before us in Ichikawa's pitiless, sometimes bitterly ironic pageant of man's descent toward his basest impulses. The fires of the plain of the title refer to distant smoke from fires on the horizon that the soldiers see from time to time. The fires are symbols of hope of release from the carnage and despair surrounding the soldiers. The final irony is how fraudulent too this hope turns out to be. All are caught in the web of deceit, of trickery, of brutality that man in his primitive state so easily reverts to. Just about every sacred cow--brotherhood, respect, honor--is refuted. Man is both a figurative and literal cannibal, preying on his fellow soldiers, his friends. The film is harshly realistic yet surreal and nightmarish--barren landscapes of corpses, dung-eating madmen, men crawling like beasts over a trench. Ichikawa's images have a barbaric splendor and dreamlike aura, reinforced by the dissonant, percussive soundtrack with its echoes of Bartok. Not a film for those unwilling to face the extent of man's capacity for monstrosity head on; for others, it's a harrowing, deeply unsettling experience."
Monkey meat
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 09/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In Ichikawa Kon's film _The Harp of Burma_ the company of soldiers led by Captain Inoue, although a bit travel worn and homesick, looked at least to be in decent health and well fed in the foreign environs of Burma. However, in his film _Fires on the Plain_ the Japanese soldiers stationed on the Island of Leyte in the Phillipines are malnourished, desperate men who are willing to do anything to survive

The first scene in the film depicts Pvt. Tamura being slapped viciously by his superior. The superior is angry because Tamura returned to their regiment. a sufferer of tuberculosis, Tamura is unable to support himself and relies on the other soldiers, who can barely forage enough food for themselves, to gather food for him. Not wanting a dependent in their midst, Tamura superior sends him back to the hospital along with a few potatoes. Tamura does, however, have one more key item in his possesion: a hand grendae.

If he tires of living or is unable to, Tamura is to kill himself with the grenade. The grenade appears several times in the film. One can almost see the gears turning in his head, an inner struggle whether he wants to live or die. However, each times he decides to keep trudging along.

Tamura does in fact arrive back at the hospital, but of course he is refused. The doctors will only let men who are very near death to stay in the hospital. Tamura, unwanted in his own camp, decides to stat with a group of stragglers who have also been cast out of their respective companies. Tamura is able to make friends with these individuals at least until the Americans begin bombing the area. The doctors leave the patients, first taking all the food, to be blown up in the bombing, and Tamura and friend are separated to the four winds.

Tamura continues his travels and eventuially arrives in a small village where he kills a Fillpino girl who would not stop screaming. He also tries to kill her boyfriend, but he runs away sucessfully.

Tamura begins to care for the wounded girl, but pushes her out of the way when he discovers a hidden cache of salt. He soon continues his journey to no real destination.

_Fires on the Plain_ is a brutal film which depicts the remnants of the once powerful Japanese army struggling to survive, but without any hope of ever being truly rescued. These soldiers just want to live for a few hours longer, their primal instincts to survive much stronger than dieing in service of the Emperor. A will to survive that will even make some of them eat "Monkey Meat."

However, even in this bleak film there are some signs of humanity. Tamura although tubercular and emancipated willingly shares his few rations and his precious salt even when he has little. There are moments of semi friendship between Tamura and the stragglers, and also between Tamura and another soldier named Nagamatsu, however, the outlook is bleak for our pleasant spoken Tamura.

Based on a novel written by Ooka Shohei.
Descent into Hell
Randy Keehn | Williston, ND United States | 12/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Over 25 years ago, I was watching a Public TV station on a Saturday afternnon in Milwaukke. They were showing a movie called "Fires on the Plain" and I watched it more out of curiosity than intent. Although the picture on my screen was fuzzy, I gradually became mesmerized as I understood what the movie was all about. The film haunted to where I bought and read the book (by the same title) by Shohei Ooka and later his worthwhile book "The Shade of Blossoms". I finally had the chance to see the movie again on IFC and was as impressed as I was the first time. It was a clear picture this time with subtitles.

"Fires on the Plain" tells the story of Tamura, a Japanese soldier in the Philipines in February, 1945; a time when defeat was turning into chaos. We witness the gradual metamorphis from civilized soldier to desperate animal as Tamura searches for a path to hope. It is a disturbing film but it is an educational film as well because of the way it allows us to examine the other side of victory.

I have always been curious about the demise of the defeated sides in WWII. Both fought well past the point of no return and suffered through incredible destruction until only a skeleton of its' empire remained to surrender. What must that have been like to experience? I have read books by Heinrich Boll that have given me something of an idea and other authors have as well. I recently finished an excellent book entitled "Japan at War: An Oral History". The eyewitness accounts of the disintegrating forces in the Philipines and other places fit the descriptions show in "Fires on the Plain". It is a disturbing portrait of a world of near-anarchy where survival is about the only instinct remaining. Truth IS stranger than fiction."
Where you sink to after you've already reached the bottom
Bomojaz | South Central PA, USA | 01/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

This excellent movie is a powerful and disturbing depiction of a defeated Japanese army unit on Leyte in 1945 trying to make its way across the island to possible safety. Starvation plagues the men all the way until cannabalism is resorted to. Eiji Funakoshi is magnificent as the emotionless man at the center of all this misery: he has TB and consequently nobody wants to eat him, and when he's finally had enough of this wretchedness he surrenders in order to get something to eat - and is gunned down. Although graphically horrifying, it's not exploitive; in fact, there is something almost dignified about these men caught up in a living hell. Our attention is riveted on Funakoshi and his quiet, distant, yet intense portrayal of a man trying to hold his humanity together in a piece, and at the same time somehow survive. More than an anit-war movie, it's more about surviving hell when the fire's going full blast and there's no way out. It's the kind of "grace under pressure" that Hemingway couldn't imagine in his worst nightmare. A magnificent and unforgettable movie."