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.