It is towards the end of World War II. After invading an island in the Philippines, Japanese servicemen meet fierce counter-offensive from the locals and the allied forces. It’s just a matter of time before the few survivors are wiped out.
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The film's nightmarish depiction of 'war as hell' is nothing wholly original, & yet one can't help but feel numbed by Tsukamoto's bold reiteration of this well-worn theme. At its best, 'Fires' juggles tranquillity & suffering; tethering the violence of man to the serenity of nature & creating an episodic narrative that feels more like the dizzying fever-dream of a character caught between a moment of life & death.
FNC '14 Tsukamoto adapts the Shohei Ooka novel but severely miscalculates the novel's intent getting lost in an ever increasing gorefest whereas the classic '59 adaptation by Kon Ichikawa captured something far deeper. Tsukamoto has made some classic genre flicks (Tetsuo, Tokyo Fist, A Snake of June) but fails here in applying the same aesthetic numbing the viewer to its extremities.
now imagine being a character from a war survival quest holding a piece of "monkey" meat in one hand and clutching a rifle in the other, surrounded not the enemies but dead flesh and hunters for it. Tsukamoto is shocking and ruthless at image as usual but it's exhaustively everything you all should know about such a thing like hostility. war.
Like T-Malick's great war movie this similarly follows men doing petty things in a great overwhelming nature. Where his is poetry this is sheer horror; an exaggeration on the aesthetics of violence. Seeing this in a cinema was visceral, the sound mixing especially being intense and uncomfortable. This is notably more personal, the face close-ups remind of Come and See and the hand-held has excellent impact.