You can probably count the number of genuinely good remakes which are better than the originals on the digits of two hands. It’s safe to say that they’re mostly reinterpretations of old films (The Thing, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Maltese Falcon, Little Shop of Horrors etc). This is precisely what Shin’ya Tsukamoto looks to do with Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on the Plain. The Testsuo, The Iron Man helmer brings his unique vision to play in this anti-war film.
In the dying embers of World War II, Japan is staggering towards defeat. On Leyte, a Philippine island, they’ve been cut-off from their supply lines by the Allies. Half-starved and suffering from tuberculosis, Private Tamura kicked-out of his platoon and rejected as a patient for not being sick enough to warrant treatment. He joins a group of disparate men, eventually fleeing in search of an evacuation point. Along the way he must try and survive anyway he can and ponder on the mysterious fires he keeps seeing.
Based on novel of the same name by Shōhei Ōoka, Fires on the Plain is a grim anti-war film. Tsukamoto plays up on the theme of cannibalism and ill-discipline to make a bloody and gory hallucinatory tale. It’s relentless. And whilst this serves to illustrate the horrors of war, and make one of the more disorientating war films, it allows for little human characterisation. Both starring as Tamura and directing, Tsukamoto relies largely on handheld cameras to create the febrile inhospitable atmosphere. Fires on the Plain is an immersive, often surreal, insight into a living hell of tropical conflict.
Fires on the Plain is released on Dual Format DVD & Blu-ray by Third Window Films on Monday 11 September.