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Fires on the Plain, like director Ichikawa's earlier Harp of Burma, is concerned with the futility and horror of war, and protests at the private suffering which comprises this social catastrophe. It reveals the Japanese army on the island of Leyte, in the final stages of defeat and disintegration, and shows the shattered and pitifully exhausted soldiers crawling about the blistering plains like diseased ants.

The film has a ferocious immediacy. No film has recorded the physical and mental degradation of an army with such obsessive zeal. We are shown men reduced to animalism, tormented by hunger, delirium, and finally cannibalism. The controlled bravura of these sequences is contrasted with the heightened delight of the few moments of fleeting pleasure. But there are neither sequences nor shots in this slow, contemplative film which do not carry significance essential to its argument and emotional experience.