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Fires on the Plain - Criterion Collection

4.5 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

A tubercular Japanese soldier walks among World War II horror. Directed by Kon Ichikawa.


Timeless and unforgettable, Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain ranks highly among the most potent anti-war films ever made. Freely adapted from the 1952 novel by Shohei Ooka and set on the Japanese-occupied Philippine island of Leyte in February of 1945, the film presents a horrific landscape that instantly conveys the nightmarish conditions that existed during the final days of World War II. With a ghostly pallor, sunken eyes, and a case of tuberculosis that has isolated him from his fellow soldiers, the ragged and desperately hungry Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) has orders to kill himself with a single grenade if he can't find medical attention at a nearby field hospital. Instead he wanders among stinking corpses, through abandoned villages where feral dogs pounce out of nowhere, and eventually encounters two skeletal comrades who are equally desperate to survive. As each of these men is drawn to an inevitable fate, Ichikawa (in close collaboration with his screenwriter wife Natto Wada) strips away any hint of political ideology, focusing on the physical and emotional devastation of survivors to illustrate, in Ichikawa's words, "a total denial [and a] total negation of war." Nearly 50 years before Clint Eastwood tapped into similar themes in Letters from Iwo Jima, Ichikawa was denouncing war with uncompromising bluntness that included (for the first time in a Japanese film) an acknowledgement that cannibalism occurred amidst other wartime atrocities. (In the film it's an indirect reference, but powerful nonetheless.) The result is a raw and powerful experience that fixes itself in your memory. Criterion's 2007 DVD release includes an informative 2006 video interview with renowned Japanese-film expert Donald Richie, video recollections (from 2005) featuring Ichickawa and actor Mickey Curtis, and a comprehensive booklet essay by film critic Chuck Stephens. --Jeff Shannon

Special Features

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • New video introduction by Japanese film scholar Donald Richie
  • New video interviews with director Kon Ichikawa and actor Mickey Curtis
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • Booklet with a new essay by film critic Chuck Stephens

Product Details

  • Actors: Eiji Funakoshi, Mantarô Ushio, Yoshihiro Hamaguchi, Osamu Takizawa, Mickey Curtis
  • Directors: Kon Ichikawa
  • Writers: Natto Wada, Shohei Ooka
  • Producers: Hiroaki Fujii, Masaichi Nagata
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 1.0)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion
  • DVD Release Date: March 13, 2007
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000M2E3FE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,083 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Fires on the Plain - Criterion Collection" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Cardenas on 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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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.
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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.
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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?
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