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Fires on the Plain (Criterion Collection)

Eiji Funakoshi , Mantar˘ Ushio , Kon Ichikawa    Unrated   DVD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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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 physical oblivion. Denied hospital treatment for tuberculosis and cast off into the unknown, Private Tamura treks across an unfamiliar Filipino landscape, encountering an increasingly debased cross-section of Imperial Army soldiers. Grisly yet poetic, Fires on the Plain is one of the most powerful works from one of Japanese cinema's most versatile filmmakers.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Descending June 27 2000
Format:VHS Tape
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Robert C. Day TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:DVD|Verified Purchase
This movie will stun most non-military scholars with its depiction of a previously disciplined army that has been shattered by defeat. The soldiers lose their cohesion as their previous military structures collapse upon defeat. The soldiers are reduced to such a state that their previous tightly organized structure no longer can support them. They are reduced to becoming non-entities in a bizarre "Hobbesian" world of might makes right and there are no rules to follow except the law of the jungle. They devolve into beings that survive by stealing from the weak, brutality and guile. They become just another predator roaming the jungle in their quest for survival. The final installment is when the strong prey upon those unable to defend themselves to provide food for the strong who delude themselves by calling their cannibalism victims "Monkey Meat." It is a film that displays war and its aftermath as it is. Their is no glory for the defeated, no honour just the most base instincts to stay alive. For serious film collectors about War it is a must have!
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  24 reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Descending June 27 2000
By John Cardenas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
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.
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Descent into Hell Dec 3 2006
By Randy Keehn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where you sink to after you've already reached the bottom Jan. 25 2006
By Bomojaz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
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.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brutal And Nightmarish Hell Of War! Dec 16 2006
By Ernest Jagger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
"Fires on the Plain" is not a film you forget once you've viewed this descent into madness and hell: And the nature of man's primal instincts that befall a group of Japanese soldiers on the island of Leyte in the Phillipines. The year is 1945, and Japan has been for all intents and purposes defeated. The soldiers that do remain in the Pacific Theatre have been cut off from any and all resupply by the once, but no longer, powerful Japanese Imperial Navy. In the Phillipines, the Japanese Imperial Army has been reduced to nothing more than a ragtag army hiding out in the jungles. One of them is Private Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi).

This is more than an anti-war film, it is a film of survival in defeat, and the primal nature of man to survive. Directed by Kon Ichikawa, one of the first scenes depicted is the vicious slapping of Private Tamura by one of his superiors. His crime? For having the audacity to return to his unit. You see Private Tamura is suffering from tuberculosis; as are many other soldiers; and his superior is angry that the private can no longer fend for himself; and instead must rely on his fellow soldiers who can barely fend for themselves. The unit is suffering from a shortage of food, and it's difficult enough for them to find food for themselves, let alone a weakened soldier.

The superior sends him back to the hospital with a few potatoes: and also in his possession is a hand grenade to kill himself with when he can no longer continue. Tamura constantly struggles with this: should I live, or die? However, when Tamura arrives at the hospital, he is refused: Only those near death are allowed in this hospital. Tamura must make a choice, unwanted in his own unit, and not allowed in the hospital, what is he to do? He decides the best course of action is to organize a group of stragglers who have also been let loose from their units. When the Americans begin bombing the Japanese, however, Tamura races off on his own.

He comes across a small village, and it is here that a very ugly encounter ensues with the native Filipino's, whom the Japanese army have treated harshly during their occupation. There nothing but hatred for the Japanese army by the local population who have endured years of brutal occupation. The film shows the brutality of the war, and how the Japanese army, who have deserted these stragglers to fend for themselves, live what remaining days they have left. For many, it is pitiful.

The film shows the viewer the true nature and horror or war. And director Ichikawa shows the viewer that underneath the veil of a once boastful and victorious army, what is left are no more than the primal instincts of survival at all costs: Even if for only another day, or another hour. Many in the Japanese army have now descended into the cannibalitistic animal whose primal instincts of survival even mean the preying on of ones own fellow soldier: which they refer to as monkey meat. This is a brutal film, and Ichikawa deserves credit for filming a subject that is rarely acknowledged or mentioned in Japan. Highly, highly recommended. [Stars: 5+]
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerizing film ! Sept. 19 2004
By Hiram Gomez Pardo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:VHS Tape
It is told with certain frequency the most remarkable film against the war in the fifties was Paths of Glory . Undoubtly , that film is one of the most powerful anti belic films ever made , but notice you are watching the war as an ego war ; a inner confrontation between the different command chain . Moreover , there were two devastating movies in this decade : Night and frog of Alain Resnais (1955) of France and this film (1959) is the most desolate and merciless portrait about the war in the Eastern World .

The powerful and brutal depiction of the inhumanity of war when a soldier , as a part of the retreating Japanese Army will find the hell in the middle of the Philipine jungle . The appropiate words are out of context . Watch and compare by yourself . The intensity and degradation level the human being can descend under specific circunstances.
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