Fires on the Plain


1h 48m 1962

Brief Synopsis

Japanese soldiers abandoned by their command fight to survive the last days of World War II.

Film Details

Also Known As
Nobi
Genre
Drama
War
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
San Francisco opening: 25 Jul 1962
Production Company
Daiei Motion Picture Co.
Distribution Company
Harrison Pictures
Country
Japan
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Nobi by Shohei Ooka (Tokyo, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Early in 1945 the retreating Japanese Army at Leyte rapidly begins to disintegrate. Rejected for being without food ration by both his squad and the hospital, the tubercular Private Tamura flees from the advancing Americans across the huge island plain toward a distant spired cross and some great columns of smoke, which could be from either Filipino guerrilla signal fires or ordinary bonfires. At a deserted native village he finds only Japanese corpses spilling from the church and wild dogs roaming the streets. After being forced to kill one of the dogs, Tamura is surprised by a couple returning for a cache of salt and panics when the woman begins screaming hysterically. He shoots her and continues firing after the escaping man. Having filled his haversack with the salt, Tamura takes to the jungle and wooded hills, where he joins three other soldiers who manage to survive by foraging for potatoes. More and more stragglers are added to the destitute group. The men get through a treacherous bog and across the main road, only to be mowed down by the waiting American tanks. Tamura escapes and hides in the hills but flees when a dying Buddhist offers him his arm to eat. Crazed with fever and exhaustion, Tamura is helped by Nagamatsu, a soldier he met earlier at the hospital, and they return to the camp he shares with his companion Yasuda. Tamura tries to eat some of the "monkey" meat they share with him, but he cannot keep it down. The men's mutual distrust grows until finally Nagamatsu ambushes, shoots, and kills Yasuda; he dismembers the body and gorges himself on the flesh. When he appears with his mouth bloody, Tamura kills him in disgust. He staggers toward one of the fires on the plain to surrender to the Americans--only to be caught in the gunfire of the farmers.

Film Details

Also Known As
Nobi
Genre
Drama
War
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
San Francisco opening: 25 Jul 1962
Production Company
Daiei Motion Picture Co.
Distribution Company
Harrison Pictures
Country
Japan
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Nobi by Shohei Ooka (Tokyo, 1952).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 48m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Fires On the Plain - Fires on the Plains


Based on a semi-autobiographical 1952 novel by Shohei Ooka, Fires on the Plain (1959) offers an antiwar statement like no other. During the waning days of World War II as Japanese forces have lost their grip on their occupation of the Philippines, a soldier named Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) suffering from tuberculosis is ordered away from his fellow soldiers who can no longer support his increasing incapacitation. If he isn't accepted upon returning to the Japanese military hospital, he is ordered to commit suicide - with his own grenade. Unfortunately, Allied forces now control the routes back to the hospital, while the local population is hardly receptive to the remaining Japanese invaders. Along the way he encounters other soldiers resorting to unimaginable lengths to sustain themselves in a landscape turning into an inhospitable hell on earth.

Originally titled Nobi, this film is the most harrowing entry in the career of its director, Kon Ichikawa. Part of the postwar movement of influential Japanese directors most famously represented in the West by Akira Kurosawa, Ichikawa avoided any sort of genre pigeonholing by using the skills he honed as an animator and a studio director-for-hire (for Toho) on commercial projects to explore deeper and more wide-ranging subject matter. His first major breakthrough was 1956's The Burmese Harp, an examination of Buddhist philosophy amid the corpse-strewn remnants of World War II which served as the more hopeful, optimistic flip side of the subsequent, much more punishing Fires on the Plain. His subsequent work ranges from stylistically experimental documentaries like 1965's Tokyo Olympiad to piercing character studies like 1963's An Actor's Revenge, even tackling a sprawling adaptation of 47 Ronin in 1994. His most significant period from the mid-'50s to the late '60s was also characterized by collaborations with his screenwriter wife, Natto Wada, who tackled a wide range of subject matter with equal skill. Though they remained married until her death in 1983, she essentially retired from writing in 1965, only returning briefly decades later to write two more films.

One of Japan's busiest actors until the late '70s, Eiji Funakoshi has been granted a major international reappraisal thanks to the wave of important, often previously unseen Japanese titles on DVD during the past decade. Though he worked steadily in character roles since 1948, Fires on the Plain was a major leading role for him and led to a string of memorable roles including several for director Yasuzo Masumura, himself an Ichikawa protégée: Afraid to Die (1960) opposite the notorious Yukio Mishima, The Black Test Car (1962) , the magnificent Manji (1964), and the harrowing lead role in the 1969 horror classic, Blind Beast. However, for western viewers he may always be best remembered as Dr. Hidaka, the starring role in 1965's Gamera which introduced the world's most beloved flying, fire-breathing turtle. He even returned to the series four years later as a different doctor in the equally beloved Gamera vs. Guiron (1969). He stepped away from the big screen in 1977, focusing instead on TV work for two more decades before retiring completely.

Though the arrival of the Japanese new wave shortly afterwards introduced a more extreme and deliberately provocative national style which remained in effect for many years, Ichikawa's accomplishment with Fires on the Plain endured long enough to establish the film as one of his unimpeachable classics and, alongside the same year's The Human Condition from Masaki Kobayashi, remains one of the most unflinching studies of the country's role in World War II in its immediate aftermath. Even other countries took notice, with the 1962 American film No Man Is an Island putting Jeffrey Hunter through a very similar storyline, albeit with a much more Hollywood resolution. More recently, filmmakers exposed to the director's work have paid explicit homage to his films, with this one in particular inspiring several incidents and moments of dialogue in Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) by Clint Eastwood, another study of defeated Japanese forces coping with the devastating and dehumanizing consequences of combat. However, no film since has dared to venture into this territory with the unflinching bravery of Ichikawa, who created a dark look at the heart of war that still resonates as strongly today.

Producer: Masaichi Nagata
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Screenplay: Shohei Ooka, Natto Wada
Cinematography: Setsuo Kobayashi, Setsuo Shibata
Production Design: Atsuji Shibata
Music: Yasushi Akutagawa
Film Editing: Tatsuji Nakashizu
Cast: Eiji Funakoshi (Tamura), Osamu Takizawa (Yasuda), Mickey Curtis (Nagamatsu), Mantaro Ushio (Sergeant), Kyu Sazanka (Army surgeon).
BW-108m.

by Nathaniel Thompson
Fires On The Plain - Fires On The Plains

Fires On the Plain - Fires on the Plains

Based on a semi-autobiographical 1952 novel by Shohei Ooka, Fires on the Plain (1959) offers an antiwar statement like no other. During the waning days of World War II as Japanese forces have lost their grip on their occupation of the Philippines, a soldier named Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) suffering from tuberculosis is ordered away from his fellow soldiers who can no longer support his increasing incapacitation. If he isn't accepted upon returning to the Japanese military hospital, he is ordered to commit suicide - with his own grenade. Unfortunately, Allied forces now control the routes back to the hospital, while the local population is hardly receptive to the remaining Japanese invaders. Along the way he encounters other soldiers resorting to unimaginable lengths to sustain themselves in a landscape turning into an inhospitable hell on earth. Originally titled Nobi, this film is the most harrowing entry in the career of its director, Kon Ichikawa. Part of the postwar movement of influential Japanese directors most famously represented in the West by Akira Kurosawa, Ichikawa avoided any sort of genre pigeonholing by using the skills he honed as an animator and a studio director-for-hire (for Toho) on commercial projects to explore deeper and more wide-ranging subject matter. His first major breakthrough was 1956's The Burmese Harp, an examination of Buddhist philosophy amid the corpse-strewn remnants of World War II which served as the more hopeful, optimistic flip side of the subsequent, much more punishing Fires on the Plain. His subsequent work ranges from stylistically experimental documentaries like 1965's Tokyo Olympiad to piercing character studies like 1963's An Actor's Revenge, even tackling a sprawling adaptation of 47 Ronin in 1994. His most significant period from the mid-'50s to the late '60s was also characterized by collaborations with his screenwriter wife, Natto Wada, who tackled a wide range of subject matter with equal skill. Though they remained married until her death in 1983, she essentially retired from writing in 1965, only returning briefly decades later to write two more films. One of Japan's busiest actors until the late '70s, Eiji Funakoshi has been granted a major international reappraisal thanks to the wave of important, often previously unseen Japanese titles on DVD during the past decade. Though he worked steadily in character roles since 1948, Fires on the Plain was a major leading role for him and led to a string of memorable roles including several for director Yasuzo Masumura, himself an Ichikawa protégée: Afraid to Die (1960) opposite the notorious Yukio Mishima, The Black Test Car (1962) , the magnificent Manji (1964), and the harrowing lead role in the 1969 horror classic, Blind Beast. However, for western viewers he may always be best remembered as Dr. Hidaka, the starring role in 1965's Gamera which introduced the world's most beloved flying, fire-breathing turtle. He even returned to the series four years later as a different doctor in the equally beloved Gamera vs. Guiron (1969). He stepped away from the big screen in 1977, focusing instead on TV work for two more decades before retiring completely. Though the arrival of the Japanese new wave shortly afterwards introduced a more extreme and deliberately provocative national style which remained in effect for many years, Ichikawa's accomplishment with Fires on the Plain endured long enough to establish the film as one of his unimpeachable classics and, alongside the same year's The Human Condition from Masaki Kobayashi, remains one of the most unflinching studies of the country's role in World War II in its immediate aftermath. Even other countries took notice, with the 1962 American film No Man Is an Island putting Jeffrey Hunter through a very similar storyline, albeit with a much more Hollywood resolution. More recently, filmmakers exposed to the director's work have paid explicit homage to his films, with this one in particular inspiring several incidents and moments of dialogue in Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) by Clint Eastwood, another study of defeated Japanese forces coping with the devastating and dehumanizing consequences of combat. However, no film since has dared to venture into this territory with the unflinching bravery of Ichikawa, who created a dark look at the heart of war that still resonates as strongly today. Producer: Masaichi Nagata Director: Kon Ichikawa Screenplay: Shohei Ooka, Natto Wada Cinematography: Setsuo Kobayashi, Setsuo Shibata Production Design: Atsuji Shibata Music: Yasushi Akutagawa Film Editing: Tatsuji Nakashizu Cast: Eiji Funakoshi (Tamura), Osamu Takizawa (Yasuda), Mickey Curtis (Nagamatsu), Mantaro Ushio (Sergeant), Kyu Sazanka (Army surgeon). BW-108m. by Nathaniel Thompson

Kon Ichikawa (1915-2008)


Kon Ichikawa, the acclaimed Japanese director whose best work such as The Burmese Harp, Ototo and the documentary Tokyo Olympiad earned him international awards and further elevated the strength of post war Japanese cinema, died on February 13 in Tokyo of pneumonia. He was 92.

He was born on November 25, 1915, in Ise, Japan. Ichikawa built on a long standing fascination with art and animation when, after formal schooling, he moved to Kyoto to work at the animation department of J.O. Studios. Working his way up the studio ladder, he eventually made his first film, a 20 minute short called A Girl at Dojo Temple (1946) using a cast of puppets.

He spent the next few years working on small, but well-received features such as Endless Passion (1949), Stolen Love (1951) and Mr. Poo (1953) before scoring a breakout hit with his moving, sweeping epic The Burmese Harp (1956). The film, about a Japanese soldier (Shoji Yasui) who becomes a Buddhist monk and devotes himself to burying his dead comrades, was acclaimed for its strong humanity and meditative tone. It won the San Giorgio Prize at the Venice Film Festival and put Ichikawa on the map as a major talent.

Ichikawa would continue his solid streak throughout the '60s: the devastating, often horrific war drama Fires on the Plains (1959), the moving family drama Ototo (1960); a fascinating look at Japanese male virility in Kagi (1960, a Golden Globe and Cannes Festival winner); the strong social document The Outcast (1962); the gender bending An Actor's Revenge (1963); and his stunning observations of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for Tokyo Olympiad (1965) which won a BAFTA winner for Best Documentary.

Although he would never quite scale the same artistic heights of the '50s and '60s, Ichikawa, ever the consummate filmmaker, would continue to have domestic hits in his native Japan in a variety of molds: social satire I Am A Cat (1975); the pulsating period piece The Firebird (1979); the sentimental, but beautifully photographed domestic drama, The Makioka Sisters (1983); and arguably, his last great film, the samurai epic 47 Ronin (1994).

Ichikawa was still directing theatrical and television movies well into his 80s and never officially retired. His last film was The Inugamis (2006). He was married to screenwriter Natto Wada from 1948 until her death in 1983. He is survived by two sons.

by Michael T. Toole

Kon Ichikawa (1915-2008)

Kon Ichikawa, the acclaimed Japanese director whose best work such as The Burmese Harp, Ototo and the documentary Tokyo Olympiad earned him international awards and further elevated the strength of post war Japanese cinema, died on February 13 in Tokyo of pneumonia. He was 92. He was born on November 25, 1915, in Ise, Japan. Ichikawa built on a long standing fascination with art and animation when, after formal schooling, he moved to Kyoto to work at the animation department of J.O. Studios. Working his way up the studio ladder, he eventually made his first film, a 20 minute short called A Girl at Dojo Temple (1946) using a cast of puppets. He spent the next few years working on small, but well-received features such as Endless Passion (1949), Stolen Love (1951) and Mr. Poo (1953) before scoring a breakout hit with his moving, sweeping epic The Burmese Harp (1956). The film, about a Japanese soldier (Shoji Yasui) who becomes a Buddhist monk and devotes himself to burying his dead comrades, was acclaimed for its strong humanity and meditative tone. It won the San Giorgio Prize at the Venice Film Festival and put Ichikawa on the map as a major talent. Ichikawa would continue his solid streak throughout the '60s: the devastating, often horrific war drama Fires on the Plains (1959), the moving family drama Ototo (1960); a fascinating look at Japanese male virility in Kagi (1960, a Golden Globe and Cannes Festival winner); the strong social document The Outcast (1962); the gender bending An Actor's Revenge (1963); and his stunning observations of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics for Tokyo Olympiad (1965) which won a BAFTA winner for Best Documentary. Although he would never quite scale the same artistic heights of the '50s and '60s, Ichikawa, ever the consummate filmmaker, would continue to have domestic hits in his native Japan in a variety of molds: social satire I Am A Cat (1975); the pulsating period piece The Firebird (1979); the sentimental, but beautifully photographed domestic drama, The Makioka Sisters (1983); and arguably, his last great film, the samurai epic 47 Ronin (1994). Ichikawa was still directing theatrical and television movies well into his 80s and never officially retired. His last film was The Inugamis (2006). He was married to screenwriter Natto Wada from 1948 until her death in 1983. He is survived by two sons. by Michael T. Toole

Fires on the Plain - Kon Ichikawa's Anti-War Masterpiece, FIRES ON THE PLAIN, on DVD


The Kon Ichikawa never secured the international reputation of fellow studio professionals Akira Kurisawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, or Yasijiro Ozu, but the versatile director made an indelible mark with two of the most powerful anti-war dramas made in or out of Japan. The lyrical and introspective The Burmese Harp (1956) follows the odyssey of a Japanese soldier in Burma during the waning months of World War II who steals the robes of a Buddhist monk to make his way back to his platoon and undergoes a spiritual transformation as he witnesses the destruction and wholesale death left in the wake of battle. After a career of studio assignments, largely satirical comedies and melodramas, this passion project from Ichikawa made an impression on critics in Japan and became his first film to be seen outside the country, picking up a prize at the Venice Film Festival and securing distribution in the U.S. and Europe.

Fires on the Plain made three years later, stands in stark contrast, stark being the operative word. Based on the novel by Shohei Ooka (who drew from his personal experiences as a soldier and POW) and scripted by Ichikawa's wife and collaborator, Natto Wada, it too takes the form of soldier's journey through the battlefields of World War II, this time an island in the Philippines in 1945 as the Americans drive the Japanese out. The striking photography and imagery is the unmistakable work of the same creative artist, but otherwise Ichikawa takes a very different path. Where the serenity amidst death of The Burmese Harp is about the healing of wounds caused by the war, Fires on the Plain is a grim and gruesome and at times macabre autopsy of its (selectively Japanese) victims.

Ichikawa opens the film with, literally, a slap in the face in startling close-up. Private Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) is too weak from tuberculosis to fight. His barking commanding officer berates him for his uselessness and orders him to the hospital, where he must gain admittance (and thus become their problem to feed) or use his grenade on himself. "I don't care if you're coughing blood," the administrator of the overstuffed hospital tells him. "If you can walk, you're not a patient." He joins a nearby group of soldiers similarly in limbo and waits to be captured by the Americans or die. At least until the camp is bombed and his will to survive kicks in, sending him trudging through the jungles with his fellow survivors.

According to Ichikawa, Funakoshi prepared for the role with a resolution that would make a die-hard Method actor think twice. Starving himself to a cadaverous dimensions, the production had to delay its start due to Funakoshi's malnutrition. Even after he "bulked up" to a healthier state and production restarted, he looks like the walking dead from the first frame, his sunken eyes half closed with exhaustion and his uniform hanging off his emaciated frame like a second hand costume on a weathered scarecrow. He barely speaks through the film, letting his hollow eyes speak for him as he witnesses the horrors of war.

Tamura wanders into an empty village – everyone is either dead (the corpses mere piles of uniforms and bones on the steps of a church) or fled – and even his best intentions backfire when he panics during a confrontation with a young Filipino couple. He joins the zombie march of scattered soldiers trying to reach the evacuation point and crosses paths with the dregs of the army's survivors: bullies, profiteers, mercenaries, and those who sacrifice their dignity and consciences to attach themselves to these schemers. As the numbers dwindle, he joins a particularly feral pair (Osamu Takizawa as a gangrenous hyena and Mickey Curtis as his amoral leech of an accomplice) hiding in the jungle and surviving on "monkey meat" and witnesses the human animal at its worst, a horror so barbaric that even his dead eyes recoil with revulsion.

"I began as a painter and I think like one," Ichikawa once remarked, and his roots as a graphic artist and cartoonist can be seen in his eye for composition and imagery on his black and white widescreen canvas. The imagery of Fires on the Plain has a primal beauty that becomes increasingly stark and severe through the course of the film, with scenes are so brutally beautiful and bizarre you'll not soon forget them: crippled patients squirming like worms to escape the bombing of a hospital, smoke clearing to reveal the rag-doll bodies strewn across an old battlefield, a platoon of soldiers crawling across an open road under cover of night like an army of insects scrambling for cover, and of course the plumes of smoke in the distance from the fires on the plain, like an obscure signal that every soldier reads differently.

The film was even more successful than The Burmese Harp, though it has been criticized for focusing on the Japanese suffering while neglecting the well documented atrocities that the Japanese perpetrated during their brutal occupation. At best Ichikawa suggests the terrible history through the terrified reactions of the Filipinos he meets along the way. But like Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, Fires on the Plain uses the Japanese experience in the final days of World War II as a microcosm for the way war destroys the soul and spirit of all involved, how the will to survive can drive men to acts of cruelty and brutality that make death look kind.

Japanese film scholar Donald Richie offers historical perspective on the film and an illuminating overview on the career of Ichikawa in his 12-minute introduction. He explains that it was Ichikawa's versatility and genre-jumping that kept him from establishing himself as a kind of artistic brand name along the lines of Kurosawa.

Criterion's disc also features new interviews with Ichikawa (who, at over 90 years old, is still actively directing) and co-star Mickey Curtis, a one-time pop idol cast (according to Ichikawa) because he was "thin." Curtis (who speaks fluent English) recalls with a laugh that he was cast because they thought he looked like Jesus Christ! An accompanying booklet features a new essay by film critic Chuck Stephens. The anamorphic widescreen disc features a crisp and clear transfer of an excellent B&W print with strong contrasts.

For more information about Fires on the Plains, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Fires on the Plains, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker

Fires on the Plain - Kon Ichikawa's Anti-War Masterpiece, FIRES ON THE PLAIN, on DVD

The Kon Ichikawa never secured the international reputation of fellow studio professionals Akira Kurisawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, or Yasijiro Ozu, but the versatile director made an indelible mark with two of the most powerful anti-war dramas made in or out of Japan. The lyrical and introspective The Burmese Harp (1956) follows the odyssey of a Japanese soldier in Burma during the waning months of World War II who steals the robes of a Buddhist monk to make his way back to his platoon and undergoes a spiritual transformation as he witnesses the destruction and wholesale death left in the wake of battle. After a career of studio assignments, largely satirical comedies and melodramas, this passion project from Ichikawa made an impression on critics in Japan and became his first film to be seen outside the country, picking up a prize at the Venice Film Festival and securing distribution in the U.S. and Europe. Fires on the Plain made three years later, stands in stark contrast, stark being the operative word. Based on the novel by Shohei Ooka (who drew from his personal experiences as a soldier and POW) and scripted by Ichikawa's wife and collaborator, Natto Wada, it too takes the form of soldier's journey through the battlefields of World War II, this time an island in the Philippines in 1945 as the Americans drive the Japanese out. The striking photography and imagery is the unmistakable work of the same creative artist, but otherwise Ichikawa takes a very different path. Where the serenity amidst death of The Burmese Harp is about the healing of wounds caused by the war, Fires on the Plain is a grim and gruesome and at times macabre autopsy of its (selectively Japanese) victims. Ichikawa opens the film with, literally, a slap in the face in startling close-up. Private Tamura (Eiji Funakoshi) is too weak from tuberculosis to fight. His barking commanding officer berates him for his uselessness and orders him to the hospital, where he must gain admittance (and thus become their problem to feed) or use his grenade on himself. "I don't care if you're coughing blood," the administrator of the overstuffed hospital tells him. "If you can walk, you're not a patient." He joins a nearby group of soldiers similarly in limbo and waits to be captured by the Americans or die. At least until the camp is bombed and his will to survive kicks in, sending him trudging through the jungles with his fellow survivors. According to Ichikawa, Funakoshi prepared for the role with a resolution that would make a die-hard Method actor think twice. Starving himself to a cadaverous dimensions, the production had to delay its start due to Funakoshi's malnutrition. Even after he "bulked up" to a healthier state and production restarted, he looks like the walking dead from the first frame, his sunken eyes half closed with exhaustion and his uniform hanging off his emaciated frame like a second hand costume on a weathered scarecrow. He barely speaks through the film, letting his hollow eyes speak for him as he witnesses the horrors of war. Tamura wanders into an empty village – everyone is either dead (the corpses mere piles of uniforms and bones on the steps of a church) or fled – and even his best intentions backfire when he panics during a confrontation with a young Filipino couple. He joins the zombie march of scattered soldiers trying to reach the evacuation point and crosses paths with the dregs of the army's survivors: bullies, profiteers, mercenaries, and those who sacrifice their dignity and consciences to attach themselves to these schemers. As the numbers dwindle, he joins a particularly feral pair (Osamu Takizawa as a gangrenous hyena and Mickey Curtis as his amoral leech of an accomplice) hiding in the jungle and surviving on "monkey meat" and witnesses the human animal at its worst, a horror so barbaric that even his dead eyes recoil with revulsion. "I began as a painter and I think like one," Ichikawa once remarked, and his roots as a graphic artist and cartoonist can be seen in his eye for composition and imagery on his black and white widescreen canvas. The imagery of Fires on the Plain has a primal beauty that becomes increasingly stark and severe through the course of the film, with scenes are so brutally beautiful and bizarre you'll not soon forget them: crippled patients squirming like worms to escape the bombing of a hospital, smoke clearing to reveal the rag-doll bodies strewn across an old battlefield, a platoon of soldiers crawling across an open road under cover of night like an army of insects scrambling for cover, and of course the plumes of smoke in the distance from the fires on the plain, like an obscure signal that every soldier reads differently. The film was even more successful than The Burmese Harp, though it has been criticized for focusing on the Japanese suffering while neglecting the well documented atrocities that the Japanese perpetrated during their brutal occupation. At best Ichikawa suggests the terrible history through the terrified reactions of the Filipinos he meets along the way. But like Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima, Fires on the Plain uses the Japanese experience in the final days of World War II as a microcosm for the way war destroys the soul and spirit of all involved, how the will to survive can drive men to acts of cruelty and brutality that make death look kind. Japanese film scholar Donald Richie offers historical perspective on the film and an illuminating overview on the career of Ichikawa in his 12-minute introduction. He explains that it was Ichikawa's versatility and genre-jumping that kept him from establishing himself as a kind of artistic brand name along the lines of Kurosawa. Criterion's disc also features new interviews with Ichikawa (who, at over 90 years old, is still actively directing) and co-star Mickey Curtis, a one-time pop idol cast (according to Ichikawa) because he was "thin." Curtis (who speaks fluent English) recalls with a laugh that he was cast because they thought he looked like Jesus Christ! An accompanying booklet features a new essay by film critic Chuck Stephens. The anamorphic widescreen disc features a crisp and clear transfer of an excellent B&W print with strong contrasts. For more information about Fires on the Plains, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Fires on the Plains, go to TCM Shopping. by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

In order to achieve maximum authenticity, actors were fed very little, and were not permitted to tend to matters of simple hygiene such as brushing their teeth and cutting their nails. As a precaution against serious deterioration of the actors' health, a number of nurses were always on call on the set.

Notes

Released in Japan in 1959 as Nobi; running time: 104 min.