Tetsuo director Shinya Tsukamoto creates a gritty and graphic version of the classic war novel about a dazed, wounded soldier who wanders through the surreal carnage of the Pacific War.
Fires on the Plain
Shohei Ooka's novel Fires on the Plain, about a Japanese soldier's gruesome ordeals during the Allied forces' liberation of the Philippines, has already yielded a cinematic masterwork in the form of Kon Ichikawa's revered 1959 adaptation. But as bleak as Ichikawa's film may be — it remains one of the most nightmarish depictions of warfare ever captured on screen — Shinya Tsukamoto's new take on Shohei's book goes several steps further into the abyss.
Even viewers who know the director's many previous provocations (most infamously Tetsuo: The Iron Man) may be startled by the extremity of his latest, which conveys the most hallucinatory and horrific elements of its source material as well as its core story of one man's struggle to preserve his humanity amid the obscenity of war. Tsukamoto himself stars as Tamura, a lowly private who's already half-dead from tuberculosis and starvation when his beleaguered Japanese regiment descends into complete disorder. As he struggles to survive alongside the few remaining soldiers, the increasingly delirious Tamura is forced ever closer to psychological and moral collapse.
The film's aesthetic strategy is similar to Terrence Malick's alternately bucolic and gruelling depiction of World War II's Pacific Theatre in The Thin Red Line; Tsukamoto's strangely serene landscapes act as counterpoint to scenes as grisly and disturbing as anything in his past catalogue of transgressions.
While preserving the profound anti-war message of Ooka's novel, this iconoclastic filmmaker delves deep into the heart of darkness to forge a vision as powerful as it is grotesque.