Heller’s Yossarian has nothing on Private Tamura. He is caught in miserable
catch-22 and the only thing that will dislodge him from his vicious cycle will
be a further downturn in Japan’s fortunes of war. There is absolutely nothing
heroic about combat throughout intense auteur Shinya Tsukamoto’s faithful but
bloody remake of Kon Ichikawa’s Fires on
the Plain (clip
which screens during Film Comment Selects 2015.
is suffering from a nasty case of tuberculosis and maybe some mild shell shock.
Deemed too sick to serve effectively by his arrogant commanding officer, Tamura
is ordered to check into the nearest field hospital on Leyte. However, the
medical staff refuses to admit him, considering him too healthy to merit a spot
on their diseased floor.
and forth he trudges between the camp and the hospital, repeatedly turning away
by each, until Allied attacks essentially eliminate either option. Receiving
word the Imperial forces have been belatedly ordered them all to regroup at
Palompon, Tamura falls in and out of small ragtag bands of retreating Imperial
soldiers, but his increasingly desperate countrymen might represent a more
immediate danger than the Yanks he is supposedly fighting.
1959 Plain has to be Ichikawa’s
darkest, bleakest film. Tsukamoto does not exactly match its dour
existentialism, but he certainly never whitewashes its atmosphere or
implications. In terms of tone, the recent Plain
could be described as one part Samuel Beckett and two parts Apocalypse Now, but with liberal
helpings of severed body parts. Tsukamoto’s Plain
is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it is considerably more
accessible than the full-on assault to the senses delivered by his Tetsuo series.
is safe to say vanity had nothing to do with Tsukamoto’s decision to direct
himself as Tamura. He is never flashy, but it is grimly compelling to watch the
soul steadily seep out of him. You absolutely believe his is just a shell of a
person, which is certainly some kind of performance.
is truly serious stuff, intended for discerning
audiences, but there might be enough gore to placate his loyal cult-following.
It covers all the bases Ichikawa did, nearly beat for beat, yet it is
unquestionably and readily identifiably a Tsukamoto film. Together with his
co-cinematographer Satoshi Hayashi, Tsukamoto gives his slow descent into
tropical madness a distinctively sweaty, feverish, and slightly surreal look
that is equally transfixing and disconcerting. One of the better remakes of a
genuine classic you will see in sometime, Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain is recommended for those who appreciate
uncompromising anti-war cinematic statements when it screens tomorrow (2/21) at
the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s Film Comment Selects.
Labels: Anti-war films, Film Comment Selects '15, Japanese Cinema, Remakes, Shinya Tsukamoto