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Fires on the plain / Nobi (Kon Ichikawa, 1959)

A sick Japanese soldier is dismissed from his unit during the war on the Philippines and tries to reach the point of evacuation on his own.

As the naive soldier Takamura tries to find his way out of the jungle and back to his fellow militaries he encounters a number of increasingly inhumane men.  He seems to be highly suspicious of the locals, but entrusts his nasty comrades with his life. Very quickly the subject of cannibalism emerges in conversations between the hungry soldier.

The Americans, who have more or less won the war are depicted as an anonymous force. There is much speculation if they are benign to POWs or would simply slaughter them. Our poor hero witnesses a botched attempt of a surrender and decides to proceed on his own. When he descends into the bottomless swamp of savage-like soldiers-turned-zombies he tries to hold on to his last remains of human dignity.

His journey is also a spiritual one, as in his naivete he strongly believes that the Fires on the plain and their billowing smoke stacks are the symbols of salvation. But his fear of a trap never lets him approach them.

In many ways, the movie is also funny - the laconic depiction of the banal things that become very dangerous in a combat situation, like crossing a road or entering a hut. The overwhelmed of expression on Takamura's face sometimes renders it comical.

There are many memorable shots in the film, but what caught my ears was the stunning theme song. It sounded very much like a western theme with a haunting melody and a beautiful arrangement. I assume that the director wanted to tell a western in that sense.

 

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