Japanese director, producer. Began career as cartoonist. Able to appeal to popular audiences yet still maintain cinematic artistry. Had print of first film confiscated by US occupation authorites for its "traditionalist and medieval spirit." Came to attention of film audiences in West with The Burmese Harp (1956) which won a prize at Venice Film Festival. Documentary of Tokyo Olympics 1964. Worked with wife Natto Wada as screenwriter. Extensive work as writer and director for Japanese TV 1958-66.

Films: Pu-San (1953) based on comic strip about Mr. Pu. Excellent adaptations of novels; Soseki Natsume's The Heart (1954), Yukio Mishima's Enjo (or Conflagration), Junichiro Tanizaki's Odd Obsession (or The Key) and I am a Cat (1975) and Toson Shimazaki's The Outcast (1962); remade classic films by updating them to present: Yutaka Abe's The Woman who touched Legs (1952) and Teinosuke Kinugasa's An Actor's Revenge (1963). Thrillers include The Pit (1957); The Inugamis (1976) and Island of Horrors (1977).


The Novel

Shohei Ooka, Fires on the Plain (1957), trans. Ivan Morris (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1992).

Ooka born Tokyo 1909, studied French literature at Kyoto University graduating 1932. Translator of French lit., influenced by liberal anti-war author Stendhal who wrote during Napoleonic and Restoration periods. Joined army in 1944, taken prisoner during the defeat of the Philippines by the Americans. Wrote memoir Record of a POW (1948). Purpose of novel was to warn ordinary people not be deluded by those who benefit from war:

(In an epilogue when the soldier has returned to Japan but cannot adjust to civilian society he wonders about ...) The reports in the newspaper, which reach me morning and evening even in this secluded spot, seem to be trying to force me into the thing that I want least of all, namely, another war. Wars may be advantageous to the small group of gentlemen who direct them, and I therefore leave these people aside; what baffles me is all the other men and women who now (1957?) once again seem so anxious to be deluded by these gentlemen. Perhaps they will not understsand until they have gone through experiences like those I had in the Philippine mountains; then their eyes will be opened. (p. 232).


Meaning of the Title

The "fires on the plain" could be signals set by Philippino guerrilla fighters, or possibly farmers burning stubble, or fires started by acts of war (American bombing).


  • Eiji Funakoshi - Pvte Tamura
  • Osamu Takizawa - Yasuda
  • Mickey Curtis - Nagamatsu
  • Mantaro Ushio - the Master Sergeant
  • Hikaru Hoshi - the 1st soldier
  • Jun Hamamura - the crazy officer

Japanese soldiers are trapped in Leyte, The Philippnies, cut off by the invading Americans in the last campaign of the defeated Japanese Army in February 1945. The tubercular Pvte Tamura is separated from his unit but cannot find shelter in a hospital because they will not accept him without food rations. When the Americans advance T flees into the jungle (Japanese soldiers were told that the Americans would kill them if they were taken POW) where he encounters the horrors of death, disease and hopelessness.


1. The strong Christian influence in the novel and film. Compare cannibalism of starving soldiers in Philippines (Catholic nation) and Catholic Mass (the body and blood of Christ). The image of the cross of the village church.

2. The parallel devastation of the environment and the individual by war.

3. The image of boots, walking barefoot, taking the boots from dead soldiers lying beside the road.

4. The much vaunted group solidarity of Japanese society has broken down completely in military defeat, thus making Tamura "the loneliest man in the world".

5. How far will/should one go to survive? What human, civilised attributes can one salvage from the wreck of war? The moral differences T establishes between killing someone in war (under orders), killing someone for survival; refusing to eat them once they are dead (pp. 244-45).

6. The pacifist sentiments of the film and novel:

I stood up and held my rifle at the ready, just as I had done the day before when I had crossed the bridge in the opposite direction. Then I placed the butt of the rifle against my hip in exactly the position it had been when I had shot the woman.

I looked down at it. The weapon shone with a sinister gleam. It was a 25-calibre rifle. It had been assigned to a school for training purposes, and the Imperial chrysanthemum crest on the cover of the breechblock had been crossed out with a large X; subsequently, with the growing shorage of weapons, the rifle had been retrieved by the Army.

I had a feeling of nausea and suddenly understood that my recent crime had depended entirely on this rifle. If only I had left it behind when I came down from my mountain, the woman could have screamed as much as she liked without the slightest danger.

It was my country that had forced this lethal weapon on me, and until recently my usefulness to my country had been in exact proportion to the amount of damage I could inflict with it on the enemy. The reason, however, that an innocent young woman now lay dead was that I had continued to carry the rifle even after I had been rejected by the Army and ceased to be of the slightest use to my country.

Without further ado, I dropped the rifle into the river. It disappeared below the surface with almost insulting rapidity, making a single gurgle as if to mock the plight of the ordinary soldier who had impulsively discarded his only effective weapon. Then the water shone a dull silver as before, and repeated the same endless eddies. (pp. 118-119).

7. The leather pouch which carries roots and tubers (life) or hand grenades (death).

8. The powerful scene where T washes his feet in a river and watches an ant crawl up his leg.