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Fires On The Plain: Novel And Movie

3681 words - 15 pages

Participants in war witness the capacity of humanity and, the survivors, are burdened with the inner struggles of wartime memories. Ooka Shohei’s 1951 major anti-war novel, Fires on the Plain, portrays the degradation of the surviving Japanese forces in the Philippines in the last year of Pacific War. Ichikawa Kon adapted the anti-war novel for film in 1959 and was consistent with the protagonist, Private Tamura, encounters while exploring the struggles between duty to the nation and duty to the self. However, the film diverges significantly from the novel through alterations in the Christian sub-plot, acts of cannibalism, and narrative style in portraying Private Tamura as a victim of war from originally depicted as burdened with guilt. The killing of Nagamatsu, by Private Tamura, illustrates the significance of the alteration on the characterization of the protagonist. The difference enables the film to sharpen the message that war is brutal and inhuman represented by the Japanese solders’ struggles for survival. The novel eludes that there is no relief from all the wartime memories and the burdens of guilt. Different social and historical contexts influence the production of the novel and the film in presenting the consequences of war from different standpoint.
Ooka Shohei is a veteran from the Pacific War, who earned high acclaim in the literary genre of war and is among one of the many influential postwar Japanese writers. Ooka Shohei fictionalized his war experiences and used the battle for Leyte Island in the Philippines, in 1944, as a vehicle in the novel, Fires on the Plain. The battle for Leyte Island was an important step towards Philippines’ liberation from Japanese occupation. Japanese defeat in the Philippines led to the final stages of Japan’s eventual surrender in World War II. Ideological and strategic motivations provided the impetus for Japan’s military involvement in the Pacific. The idealist wish to free Asia from communism and western influences fueled Japan’s desire in creating and leading a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” However, nationalists and militarists manipulated the core ideals to mobilize the masses for imperialistic gains in strengthening Japan. The rich natural resources and the ideal strategic military location for advancing further operations in the Pacific, led to the invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese Imperial Army in 1941. By 1944, American forces and Filipino guerrillas cut off all Japanese ability to reinforce and resupply their troops on island of Leyte in the Philippines. It is in this stage that Ooka chose as his backdrop in depicting the hardships experienced by the Japanese Army, in particular the struggles for survival by the protagonist, Private Tamura, to criticize the many dimensions of war.
Ichikawa Kon adaptation of the novel in 1959 initially received mixed reviews from both Japanese and international critics concerning its violence and bleak theme. It...

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