A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa, 1959)

Tamura: Eiji Funakoshi
Yasuda: Osamu Takizawa
Nakamatsu: Mickey Curtis
Sergeant: Mantaro Ushio
Army surgeon: Kyu Sazanaka
Officer: Yoshihiro Hamaguchi
Soldier: Hikaru Hoshi
Soldier: Asao Sano
Soldier: Masaya Tsukida

Director: Kon Ichikawa
Screenplay: Natto Wada
Based on a novel by Shohei Ooka
Cinematography: Setsuo Kobayashi
Production design: Atsuji Shibata
Film editing: Tatsuji Nakashizu
Music: Yasushi Akutagawa

War films often have much in common with horror movies: the impending dread, the omnipresence of death and mutilation. But none that I've seen goes quite so far in that direction as Kon Ichikawa's Fires on the Plain, which eventually takes on the character of a zombie movie. I don't mean that flippantly or facetiously, because Fires on the Plain is very much a serious film, thoughtful and unsparing in its treatment of the horrors of war. But the images of a swarm of Japanese soldiers crawling across a road in the near-dark and of starving, wounded men staggering toward a hoped-for rescue inevitably evoke those movies and TV series about the walking undead. From the beginning, the film's protagonist, Tamura, is one of those undead figures: Gaunt and tubercular, he is turned away from his company of soldiers making a last-ditch stand because he is of no use as a fighter, and sent back to the field hospital from which he has already been turned away. The officer who sends him off gives him a grenade and tells him that if the hospital won't take him, he's to blow himself up. Tamura doesn't do that, but he begins a long trek across Leyte as things go ever worse for the Japanese, targets not only of the American army but even more so of the vengeful Filipinos -- at one point, an American convoy stops to take prisoners, but a Filipina accompanying the Americans gleefully guns them down instead. Eventually, the most zombie-like thing of all happens to Tamura: He comes face to face with starving soldiers who are eating human flesh. Some of them call it "monkey meat," but one mad and dying man offers his own body to Tamura as food. With this premise, the film could have gone deep into sensationalism -- or worse, into Christian iconography -- but Ichikawa makes it clear that the cannibalism he portrays is a metaphor for the ultimate degradation of war. Critics are often puzzled by Ichikawa's career, which is marked by a great variety of films, all of them made with extreme technical finesse. His other great anti-war film, The Burmese Harp (1956), for example, has moments of lyricism and tenderness that are completely absent from Fires on the Plain. So if you're looking for the consistency of an auteur, you won't find it in his work. But that doesn't keep him from being an extraordinarily daring filmmaker.   

No comments: