Fires on the Plain (Nobi) Reviews
I looked up this movie because of the storyline of the Philippines, not my home but the home of part of my ancestry. And when I found out that it was panned by most when it came out and even the Japanese couldn?t digest it and its messages, but is now thought of to be a gem, I had to see it. Not to mention I listened to a podcast about WW2 straglers left on islands.
For fans of classic message war movies, this is a must.
In a way, this film is similar to APOCALYPSE, NOW in that it follows a man on a journey which gets darker and grim the farther he goes . Here, Pvt. Tamura tries to travel (by foot) to the evacuation zone. The farther he journeys - the greater the dehumanizing effects of the war is apparent. With food and supplies all but exhausted - some soldiers resort to cannibalism. Even surrender does not seem to be an option, as the resentful filipino forces would just as soon shoot a japanese soldier as take him prisoner.
The film is shot in a black & white widescreen format...and one of the film's plusses is the exceptional cinematography of Setsuo Kobayashi - creating a seeming Hell in the Eden-like environs of the Philippine countryside.
9 / 10
This movie plays out very, very similarly to Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima," but lacks the special effects and the salvation. Everything you'll see in Ichikawa's movie is depraved and awful, with almost no redemption to be found among any of the characters. It's a little heavy at times; not in that it's tough to watch, but in that there's so little relief from the doom and gloom. Clearly a stylistic choice, but still. I feel tired having just seen it.
I gotta go get the Burmese Harp and some other Ichikawa movies now. Dammit.
The film is filled with a quiet sense of desperation and desolation. 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, but we?re shown this from the winner?s side. In Fires on the Plain, we?re shown that war is even more hellish when you?re on the losing end.