Shinya Tsukamoto's film 'Fires on the Plain' to remind Japan of war's horror

Director's message to the modern-day nationis to remember the lessons of the horrors of battle and not make the same mistakes again

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 10:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 September, 2014, 10:57pm


Featuring cannibalism, maggots devouring rotting flesh and one soldier's desperate bid to cling to humanity in the chaos, Japanese war film Fires on the Plain has both thrilled and shocked at the Venice film festival.

Yet the latest work of cult director Shinya Tsukamoto, renowned for horror movies such as Hiruko the Goblin and Tetsuo: The Iron Man, represents more than gore, the director saying he made the film as an anti-war statement in direct response to his government's moves to strengthen its military.

The film is a remake of Kon Ichikawa's 1959 classic about defeated Japanese troops in the Philippines at the end of the second world war. This, however, is a claustrophobic nightmare of explosions and spilt innards.

Japan is getting worse and worse and it’s going back to the past

Tsukamoto also plays Private Tamura, the main character in the film, which dwells on the dead and the dying among Japanese towards the end of the war. It shows the limits of endurance, and the desperate measures people will take to survive.

"In the last year all the people that had experienced war are getting older and older and many of them have died, so there are very few people who can testify and say what war really is," Tsukamoto said.

"At the same time, the political situation in Japan is getting worse and worse and it's going back to the past, militarily speaking, and also politically speaking," he said, referring to Japan's moves to bolster its military.

"So I just wanted to somehow push everyone's feelings towards these kinds of conditions. I want to address the audience as normal people to say, 'We are in danger', but at the same time I want to warn politicians and people who are in charge, saying, 'You are making bad choices and you must be careful not to go back to the past'.

"This is the reason I made this film."

He told journalists at the world's oldest film festival that he had wanted to make the film to show "the idiocy of war, of senseless deaths".

"Rather than base it on my experiences of war films, I wanted to find out more about those who survived this tragedy in real life, what they thought, how they felt pain that it's not possible for us to imagine," he said.

"Now was the right moment to make the film because most of the survivors are dead, but Japan needs to remember what happened."

The movie, in competition for the Golden Lion award, sparked enthusiastic applause from some critics, though a steady stream of viewers left the room during the screening, many looking ill.

The film is based on the 1951 novel Fires on the Plain by Ooka Shohei.

Tsukamoto said he felt that history was not necessarily always on a forward trajectory, and civilisation could regress.

"I think that there has been an evolution from beast to human being and it's taken such a long time, and a lot of people have died for this evolution in history and sometimes we go towards the future but sometimes we stop and we go back … breaking this kind of evolution and I think this is amoral," he said.

"It's not normal and it should be different because human beings should go forward and not forget their past because this is the worst thing they can do."

Japanese actor Lily Franky, who plays a soldier, said "one of the messages in this film by the director is not one the Japanese want to see", referring to a desire among Japanese to wipe out memories of the second world war and Japan's role in it.

"The director is actually thinking about releasing the film next year on the anniversary of the end of the war," Franky said.

"Normally on this day, August 15 ... most Japanese don't want to watch the TV programmes on this, but we hope to release this film on that day next year."