FIRES ON THE PLAIN (NOBI) (Kon Ichikawa, 1959)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Monday, January 19, 1:00
Festival runs January 14-29 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Jewish Museum
Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain is one of the most searing, devastating war movies ever made. Loosely based on Shohei Ooka’s 1952 novel and adapted by Ichikawa’s wife, screenwriter Natto Wada, the controversial film stars Eiji Funakoshi as the sad sack Tamura, a somewhat pathetic tubercular soldier on the island of Leyte in the Philippines at the tail end of World War II. After being released from a military hospital, he returns to his platoon, only to be ordered to go back to the hospital so as not to infect the other men. He is also given a grenade and ordered to blow himself up if the hospital refuses him, which it does. But instead of killing himself, Tamura wanders the vast, empty spaces and dense forests, becoming involved in a series of vignettes that range from darkly comic to utterly horrifying. He encounters a romantic Filipino couple hiding salt under their floorboards, a quartet of soldiers stuffed with yams trying to make it alive to a supposed evacuation zone, and a strange duo selling tobacco and eating “monkey” meat. As Tamura grows weaker and weaker, he considers surrendering to U.S. troops, but even that is not a guarantee of safety, as the farther he travels, the more dead bodies he sees. Fires on the Plain is a blistering attack on the nature of war and what it does to men, but amid all the bleakness and violence, tiny bits of humanity try desperately to seep through against all the odds. And the odds are not very good. Fires on the Plain is screening January 19 at 1:00 at the Walter Reade Theater as part of the War Against War sidebar program of the twenty-fourth annual New York Jewish Film Festival, which focuses on antiwar films from the 1950s and 1960s; the schedule also includes Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers, Stanley Kubrick’s Fear and Desire, Konrad Wolf’s I Was Nineteen, Jean-Luc Godard’s Les Carabiniers, and Peter Watkin’s The War Game, anchored by a panel discussion on January 19 at 3:00 at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (free with advance RSVP) with Kent Jones, Martha Rosler, Harrell Fletcher, and Trevor Paglen, moderated by Jens Hoffmann.