Fires on the Plain (Ichikawa, 1959)

Fires on the Plain once again finds director Kon Ichikawa exploring themes of survival, honor, and loyalty amidst the slow Japanese disintegration during the final days of the Pacific campaign. However, this dirty, bloody, and unflinching flip-side to The Burmese Harp bypasses lyrical symbolism for raw intensity, creating an altogether harrowing glance at the human costs of war by following a TB infected soldier as he attempts to survive one emotional and physical onslaught after another.

Fires on the Plain offers up a series of horrific set pieces (the Allied tank assault is especially disturbing), and masterfully aligns this structure to the will of its conflicted hero, a man consumed by the guilt, wrath, and desperation of his environment. The death of Kon Ichikawa earlier this year has become that much more saddening now that I’ve explored some of his greatest work.

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