(aka 'Nobi' or 'Fires on the Plain')

Directed by Kon Ichikawa
Japan 1959

An agonizing portrait of desperate Japanese soldiers stranded in a strange land during World War II, Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain (Nobi) is a compelling descent into psychological and physical oblivion. Denied hospital treatment for tuberculosis and cast off into the unknown, Private Tamura treks across an unfamiliar Philippine landscape, encountering an increasingly debased cross section of Imperial Army soldiers, who eventually give in to the most terrifying craving of all. Grisly yet poetic, Fires on the Plain is one of the most powerful works from one of Japanese cinema’s most versatile filmmakers.

***

Stunningly composed in black and white on a widescreen DaieiScope canvas, FIRES ON THE PLAIN is beautiful to look at (its magnificent Philippine vistas swallowing the insignificant Funakoshi) although philosophically horrible to contemplate. The world that director Ichikawa brings to the screen (based on the 1951 novel by Shohei Ooka) is difficult to bear--a world of brutality, pain, death, destruction, and cannibalism--in short, a world of war. In it Ichikawa has created one of the great indictments of war and one of the most painful examinations of humanity. Unfortunately, the videocassette is not letterboxed (except for the opening-credit tease), virtually destroying the power and beauty of the visual composition.

Excerpt from TV Guide located HERE

***

Odd to think that the remarkable Japanese director Ichikawa started his career with satiric comedies, when this film made 10 years later is one of the most painful and graphic depictions of the inhumanity of war ever committed to celluloid. A cross between his own anti-war film The Burmese Harp and von Sternberg's Anatahan, this depicts a group of Japanese soldiers marooned on a remote island in the Philippines without supplies. Exhausted by battle and near starvation they begin eating corpses and degenerate to full-blown cannibalism, preying on the weak. Magnificently shot in widescreen black and white, this is a truly harrowing work.

Excerpt from Channel Four located HERE

***

Wandering in dazed retreat from the advancing American army, a Japanese soldier crosses the appalling devastation of a Philippine island, his life spared only because his tubercular condition makes him unfit for consumption by the starving, dehumanized masses who hide in the rubble. No other film on the horrors of war has gone anywhere near as far as Kon Ichikawa's 1959 Japanese feature; it's obsessionally fixed on the sheer horror of human existence, and the terror and hopelessness keep mounting.

Excerpt from Dave Kehr's review at the Chicago Reader located HERE.

 

Posters/Video Covers

Theatrical Release: November 3rd, 1959

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DVD Review: Criterion Collection - Region 1 - NTSC

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This is also part of The Essential Art House - 50 Years of Janus Films which is a 50-disc celebration of international films collected under the auspices of the groundbreaking theatrical distributor. It contains Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ashes And Diamonds (1958), L'avventura (1960), Ballad Of A Soldier (1959), Beauty And The Beast (1946), Black Orpheus (1959), Brief Encounter (1945), The Fallen Idol (1948), Fires On The Plain (1959), Fists In The Pocket (1965), Floating Weeds (1959), Forbidden Games (1952), The 400 Blows (1959), Grand Illusion (1937), Häxan (1922), Ikiru (1952), The Importance Of Being Earnest (1952), Ivan The Terrible, Part II (1958), Le Jour Se Lève (1939), Jules And Jim (1962), Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), Knife In The Water (1962), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943), Loves Of A Blonde (1965), M (1931), M. Hulot's Holiday (1953), Miss Julie (1951), Pandora's Box (1929), Pépé Le Moko (1937), Il Posto (1961), Pygmalion (1938), Rashomon (1950), Richard III (1955), The Rules Of The Game (1939), Seven Samurai (1954), The Seventh Seal (1957), The Spirit Of The Beehive (1973), La Strada (1954), Summertime (1955), The Third Man (1949), The 39 Steps (1935), Ugetsu (1953), Umberto D. (1952), The Virgin Spring (1960), Viridiana (1961), The Wages Of Fear (1953), The White Sheik (1952), Wild Strawberries (1957), Three Documentaries By Saul J. Turell plus the hardcover, full color 240-page book.

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 378 - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 1:44:24 
Video 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.67 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.

Bitrate:

Audio Japanese (Dolby Digital mono) 
Subtitles English, None
Features

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1

Edition Details:

• Video introduction by Japanese-film scholar Donald Richie
• Interviews with director Kon Ichikawa and actor Mickey Curtis
• Original theatrical trailer
• Liner notes essay by film critic Chuck Stephens

DVD Release Date: March 13th, 2007

Transparent Keep Case
Chapters: 21

 

Comments:

NOTE: The transfer is exactly the same as the one available from the Essential Art House Collection reviewed HERE. The differences are the supplement inclusions, the case and the fact that it is region 1 where the Essential Art House Collection edition is region 0. The time is 20 seconds longer as it encompasses the spinning Criterion logo absent in the Art House release.

I will repeat that this is magnificent cinema - I feel honored to have had the opportunity to see! It ranks as one of the best films I have ever seen.

 

The transfer is very good - minimal digital artifacts, some wear and tear on the image with occasional light scratches and marks, but overall it has Criterion's hallmark of stupendous contrast and strong detail. The optional subtitle font reminds me of a Home Vision release but I'd say this looks a notch higher.

Donald Richie gives a great introduction - lasting about 12 minutes - he discusses the novel and how Ichikawa would be prohibited from making this film today. He gives comment on the ease of which certain horrific themes are subtly incorporated into the viewing experience. In a 20 minute interview Ichikawa discusses his war experiences and how it affected the manner in which he shot the film. There is a segment on screenwriting with Natto Wada and how she choose that name from the 'nat' in Robert Donat the actor's name. There are other sections commented on also by Mickey Curtis - entitled Production and Epilogue. There is also a trailer and a 22-page liner notes booklet with a thorough essay by Chuck Stephens.

Thankfully Criterion have released this individually (out of the Essential Art House boxset). I am totally enamored with the film and can't find any reason whatsoever not to give this our highest recommendation.     

Gary W. Tooze

 



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DVD Box Cover

   

CLICK to order from:

(click titles for DVDBeaver reviews)

This is also part of The Essential Art House - 50 Years of Janus Films which is a 50-disc celebration of international films collected under the auspices of the groundbreaking theatrical distributor. It contains Alexander Nevsky (1938), Ashes And Diamonds (1958), L'avventura (1960), Ballad Of A Soldier (1959), Beauty And The Beast (1946), Black Orpheus (1959), Brief Encounter (1945), The Fallen Idol (1948), Fires On The Plain (1959), Fists In The Pocket (1965), Floating Weeds (1959), Forbidden Games (1952), The 400 Blows (1959), Grand Illusion (1937), Häxan (1922), Ikiru (1952), The Importance Of Being Earnest (1952), Ivan The Terrible, Part II (1958), Le Jour Se Lève (1939), Jules And Jim (1962), Kind Hearts And Coronets (1949), Knife In The Water (1962), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943), Loves Of A Blonde (1965), M (1931), M. Hulot's Holiday (1953), Miss Julie (1951), Pandora's Box (1929), Pépé Le Moko (1937), Il Posto (1961), Pygmalion (1938), Rashomon (1950), Richard III (1955), The Rules Of The Game (1939), Seven Samurai (1954), The Seventh Seal (1957), The Spirit Of The Beehive (1973), La Strada (1954), Summertime (1955), The Third Man (1949), The 39 Steps (1935), Ugetsu (1953), Umberto D. (1952), The Virgin Spring (1960), Viridiana (1961), The Wages Of Fear (1953), The White Sheik (1952), Wild Strawberries (1957), Three Documentaries By Saul J. Turell plus the hardcover, full color 240-page book.

Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 378 - Region 1 - NTSC




 

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