* Film shows Japanese retreat at end of World War Two
* Starving soldiers depicted resorting to cannibalism
* Director says wanted to give "anti-militarist" message
By Michael Roddy
LONDON, Sept 2 One of the most powerful and
violent films to be shown at the Venice Film Festival this year,
Japanese director Shinya Tsukamoto's "Nobi" (Fires on the
Plain), delivers a stinging anti-war message bathed in blood.
A remake of a 1959 classic, the film, shown late on Monday
and in competition for the main festival prize, sticks to the
plot of Kon Ichikawa's earlier film about defeated Japanese
troops in the Philippines in World War Two.
The version by Tsukamoto, whose past
horror-and-fantasy-tinged films have earned him a reputation as
an auteur of the strange, pumps up the volume in terms of
severed body parts, bloody stumps of arms, maggot-ridden corpses
and starving soldiers descending into cannibalism.
Tsukamoto also plays Private Tamura, the main character in
the film, which dwells on the dead and the dying among Japanese
troops towards the end of the war. It shows the limits of human
endurance, and the desperate measures people will take to
"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 told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
"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 recent 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."
The film is based on the 1951 novel "Fires on the Plains" by
Tsukamoto also said he felt that history is not necessarily
always on a forward trajectory, and civilisation can 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 to our
past, 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."
The soldier Tsukamoto plays is a self-described intellectual
and writer who is rejected by his much-reduced unit because he
suffers from TB.
He is sent to a field hospital that is little more than a
hut in the jungle and is littered with mangled people. The
doctor says his ailment doesn't matter and sends him back to his
unit - but takes away a handful of yams Tamura is carrying,
which are virtually all anyone has to eat.
Tamura shuttles between his unit - where he is punched by
his commander and ordered to go back to the hospital or kill
himself if he is not admitted - and the hospital, which will not
let him in.
While sitting outside the hospital, wondering what to do,
American planes attack, killing the doctor with machinegun fire
and turning the hut into an inferno that kills everyone inside.
Tamura then begins an odyssey in the lush green jungle where
the foliage, shown from aerial views, conceals the violence and
carnage taking place below.
The corporal is occasionally charitable, giving one of the
few yams he has to someone else, but instantly regrets doing so.
Later along his journey, he runs into a pair of soldiers he
first met outside the hospital and they tell him they have been
hunting monkeys and drying their meat in order to eat it.
He gives them his rifle so they can hunt more, but when
Tamura follows one of the men into the jungle he discovers that
the man is hunting other soldiers to kill and eat.
"Actually one of the messages in this film by the director
is not one the Japanese want to see," Japanese actor Lily
Franky, who plays one of the soldiers, said, referring to a
desire among Japanese to wipe out memories of World War Two 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 told
"Normally on this day, August 15th ... most Japanese don't
want to watch the TV programmes scheduled on this, but we hope
to release this film on that day next year, so that's the
mission of the film (to make the Japanese audience think about
(Additional reporting by Rollo Ross; Writing by Michael Roddy;
Editing by Susan Fenton)