Nobi (Fires on the Plain) (1959)
Director: Kon Ichikawa.
Starring: Eiji Funakoshi (Tamura), Osamu Takizawa (Yasuda), Mickey Curtis (Nagamatsu), Mantarô Ushio (Sergeant), Kyu Sazanaka (Army surgeon),. Yoshihiro Hamaguchi (Officer), Asao Sano (Soldier), Masaya Tsukida (Soldier), Hikaru Hoshi (Soldier), Jun Hamamura, Yuzo Hayakawa, Tatsuya Ishiguro, Yasushi Sugita (Soldier).
fight of one Japanese soldier to survive facing terrible horrors on the island of Leyte, Philippines in February, 1945
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
The officer slaps Private First Class Tamura. The military hospital sent Tamura back to his platoon. But there is no place for consumptives with the healthier troops. The officer tells Tamura to go back to the hospital and remain there until they take him in. Tamura is reminded about the unit's purpose. They were at Tacloban. They have lost twp-thirds of their men. They tried to reach Buraven airfield by crossing the central mountains. He adds that they brought twelve days of ration from Ormoc. But now that is gone and the men have to forage for food in shifts. They collect yams and bananas. The company is down to platoon size. The officer tells Tamura that if they send him away from the hospital to blow himself up with his hand grenade.
Tamura talks with some fellow soldiers who tell him that the enemy doesn't bother with them anymore.
Tamura heads into the jungle and away from the road. He sees smoke in the distance. Tamura runs into a Philippine villager. The fellow runs from him. The Japanese have left the immediate area. Tamura reaches the hospital. There he is informed of the general rule: "If you can walk, you are not a patient." So he goes outside and sits with the wounded who can walk. They are called "squatters" They talk about Ormac being hit by long-range shells again. One of the fellows says that he wanted the Yanks to take them prisoner. The Allies don't feel it is a dishonor to become a prisoner-of-war. One of the squatters steals yams from the hospital, but is caught and thrown out literally from the thatch building.
A shell hits near the hospital. The healthier patients start running away from the hospital, while the more seriously wounded have to attempt to crawl to relative safety. The hospital structures are destroyed by the artillery shells. Tamura also runs away from the hospital. He looks at his grenade and laughs.
Many days later. Tamura sees a cross on a church. He heads for the abandoned village. He sees evidence of the Yanks when he sees a carton of Lucky Strikes cigarettes. A dog attacks him and he has to kill it with his bayonet. Walking around the village he sees a bunch of Japanese soldier bodies and skeletons all stacked up in a corner. A native guy and gal arrive. He follows them. He sees them taking something from underneath the floor of the thatch house. He enters with his rifle pointed at the couple. The woman starts screaming and screaming and the unnerved Tamura shoots her dead. He then tries to shoot the fellow, but his rifle misfires several times. The native man runs for his boat. Tamura sits on the beach and tries to shoot the guy, but he gets away. Then Tamura goes back to see the dead woman. He finds the salt for which the native couple had come. He fills one of his knapsacks with the valuable substance.
Tamura starts walking away from the village. Crossing a stream he drops his rifle into the water. He starts walking onto a large plain. He greets three Japanese soldiers. They say they found this yam field and have collected a great many yams. They tell Tamura that all troops on Leyte are to head to Palompon. They are to head for evacuation to Cebu. It has not been easy. They ate human flesh on New Guinea. They find his salt and become very enthusiastic. They divide the salt amongst the four of them.
Tamura says there are guerrillas in the area. A burned area indicates, he says, the making of signal fires. One of the other guys says the burned areas were created by farmers. They debate whether to stay put or to go to the village where Tamura found the salt.
Tamura and other Japanese soldiers stagger along a muddy road. Soldier Nagamatsu trades tobacco leaves (belonging to Yasuda) for yams and gets slapped in the face when he asks an officer to trade. Nagamatsu tells Tamura that his comrade Yasuda will surrender to the Yanks. American trucks travels on the roads near the Japanese. Tamura finds the three soldiers he first found on the yams planting area. There is some talk of soldiers having to eat human flesh to survive. The squad leader says that he will shoot anyone who tries to surrender to the Yanks, but then he laughs. The men are not certain if the man is serious or not. The soldiers have to cross a muddy area and then head up an embankment. Once on top of the embankment they run into America tanks. A majority of the Japanese soldiers in the area are killed.
The next morning bodies are seen all over the place. A Red Cross truck stops to check if any of the soldiers on the field are still alive. They don't find very many still alive. The truck leaves. A Japanese soldier tries to surrender to the Allies, but a Philippine woman soldier shoots the man dead. Tamura watches the whole incident. He decides to stop considering surrender. He walks past dead body after dead boy. It starts to rain. A soldier comes up to him, sits down and promptly dies. Tamura takes his boots. A little later Tamura comes across a man sitting by a tree. He appears to have gone crazy. He thinks an "autogiro" will come and pick him up. The crazed man tells Tamura that when he dies, Tamura can eat him. This repulses Tamura and he leaves. He says: "I would not eat human flesh."
Tamura runs into Nagamatsu again. Nagamatsu gives Tamura some "monkey" meat to eat. But when Tamura starts to eat it his teeth start falling out. He observes that his gums have gone soft. Nagamatsu takes Tamura over to where Yasuda sits in a primitive shelter. When Tamura and Yasuda are alone together, Yasuda steals his grenade. Tamura asks for it back, but Yasuda refuses. Instead Yasuda threatens Tamura with his bayonet. Tamura walks away. He sees Nagamatsu out monkey hunting. But as Nagamatsu points his rifle at Tamura, the latter fully realizes that Nagamatsu does not hunt "monkeys" but men. He bluffs Nagamatsu by taking out a pretend grenade, pulling the pin and preparing to throw it at Nagamatsu. This stops Nagamatsu from firing. The two men then greet each other. Tamura explains how he lost his grenade to Yasuda. This makes Nagamatsu mad and he says that now he will have to kill Yasuda, before the man kills him.
Nagamatsu approaches Yasuda's shelter, shouting out to him. He then runs back a ways with Tamura. Yasuda throws the grenade and it explodes where the men once were. Nagamatsu and Tamura then set themselves up on the side of a large hill waiting to ambush Yasuda. Yasuda comes into the open and Nagamatsu shoots the man dead. Nagamatsu then starts cutting up Yasuda's body with his bayonet. Again Tamura is disgusted and turns away from Nagamatsu. He runs back to where the rifle still lies and grabs it. He comes back to Nagamatsu and points the rifle at him. Nagamatsu doesn't know quite how to react. He approaches Tamura and grabs the rifle barrel. Tamura pulls the trigger killing Nagamatsu. Tamura throws the rifle down and heads in the direction of the smoke he had been seeing. As he walks into the open area, the enemy starts shooting at him. Bullets hit the ground around him. But he just keeps walking straight ahead as if in a trance. Then suddenly he drops dead. A bullet finally found its mark.
Philippine Front, February 1945.
Very good movie. If you ever wanted to see a movie where the Japanese soldiers are "punished" for their many crimes against humanity, this is the movie. The Japanese soldiers are part of an army in name only. They are literally starving to death. Their clothes are falling off them and their shoes are barely hanging to their feet. All they think about is survival. They are so powerless that the Allies don't even bother with them. Compared to the other Japanese soldiers, our hero Tamura is a pretty decent fellow. He does not engage in cannibalism and he does not shoot his fellow soldiers in the struggle for survival. Tamura is just trying to hold on to life -- just trying to survive. He sees and feels one terrible thing after another. He sees how degraded the Japanese soldiers have become. And yet he persists.
This is a very anti-war film. The great Japanese war machine's loyal and murderous soldiers have been reduced to cannibalism. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The proud soldiers who denigrated the Allied soldiers and treated the Allied P.O.W.s as so many concentration camp inmates to be usef as labor or shot down like dogs, have been overwhelmed by the might of the Allies. And the director makes this end result of the arrogance of Japanese power all so plainly painful and all so plainly visible in order to remind the Japanese people never to take up offensive war again. Not pride, but arrogance, goes before a fall. And fall they did.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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