Fires on the Plain

Finally available on DVD, Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 adaptation of the Shohei Ooka antiwar novel Nobi is one of the more underexposed examples of classic Japanese cinema. In the final days of World War II and cut off from any hope of re-supply or even withdrawal, a squad of Japanese soldiers in retreat through the jungles of the Philippines are on their last legs, shattered and demoralized with the realization that all they had fought for had been for nothing. Even the implications of that are soon forgotten as, through extreme starvation, the gaunt, desperate men are forced to turn on each other in cannibalism. Strikingly photographed and one of the more devastating narratives in world cinema, Fires on the Plain offers an undistilled version of the Japanese point of view during the conclusion of that conflict, shattering the cultural preconceptions held of death-before-dishonor along the way.