Fires on the Plain

January 3, 2011

Fires on the Plain is a Japanese novel by Shōhei Ōoka, published in 1951.  It was made into a movie of the same name in 1959, directed by Kon Ichikawa.  Ōoka was a novelist and while Fires on the Plain is not a “true story” it is based on his and others’ experiences in the Philippines during World War 2.  It is sometimes described as a horror story and its connection to actual events makes it that much more creepy.  Some soldiers did resort to cannibalism, it is true.

Dude, why are you looking at me like that?

The movie’s opening scene of Private Tamara and the officer and the final scene of Tamara and Nakamatsu are especially memorable.  The book is notable for Tamara’s Christian ponderings and other depth not present in the movie.  I’m not inclined to recommend one over the other, but it was the strength of the acting and visuals in the movie that led me to the book.

A common thread of the three books that I’ve recently read about Japanese soldiers during WW2 is the central importance of the characters’ fateful interpretations of events and signs.  In Fires on the Plain, the plumes of smoke are said to be from farmers innocently burning leftover corn husks, but Tamara interprets them as signals created by Filipino guerrillas to direct American artillery fire towards routed Japanese soldiers…even towards a single desperate soldier wandering the jungle.   Are the fires following him or is he following the fires?  Tamara seems to find his answer, though the endings of the book and the movie differ in its portrayal.

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2 Responses to “Fires on the Plain”

  1. […] Some Stragglers have a taste for human flesh, which they blithely call “monkey meat”.  Others lead a more docile existence, tending gardens of purple potatoes and other jungle vegetables.  They often communicate in delusional gibberish and non sequitur.  For example: • “It is with much embarrassment that I am still alive.” • (With an arrow protruding from chest.) “That is not an arrow. We just imagine the arrows because we fear them.” • “Come on! Kill me! I’m here! Come on! Do it now! Kill me!” • “They’re all gone, sir…I’m the last one, sir.” • (Extending own arm.) “When I’m dead, you can eat this.” […]

  2. […] the problem is that many of the jungle’s food sources are either unknown or unappetizing.  A foreign army will have difficulty with food supplies in the jungle, but a relatively small and resourceful expedition should find adequate sustenance in the […]

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