FF9 - Fires on the Plain

Intro by John Roderick

Fires on the Plain illuminates the plight of Japanese soldiers all but abandoned in the Philippines toward the end of World War II. Trying to evacuate with no clear command structure, no resources and no food, the imperial army is scattered and lawless. Director Kon Ichikawa went to remarkable extremes to make this film back in 1959. Actors were underfed and mistreated in order to pull off performances that look authentically crazed and starving.

The film follows Private Tamura whose tuberculosis makes him too weak to fight. His commander offers him a choice: Get admitted to the overburdened field hospital or commit suicide with a grenade. When the hospital is destroyed, Tamara sets off on an odyssey across the island, encountering soldiers in varying states of starvation and insanity. Americans are glimpsed only briefly and the Japanese appear to envy their wealth more than hold any animosity. The film climaxes with an extended set piece involving two other soldiers who have conspired to kill Private Tamura using his own grenade and then to eat him.

After escaping, Tamara is finally killed approaching the fires on the plaines which have fascinated him throughout the film. This profoundly agonizing story resonated with us as a remarkable work of art. It's also the first foreign language film on the podcast. Tune in as we look on as another culture meditates on its own relationship with war and suffering. Try a little salt on today's film Fires on the Plain.

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