Greetings again from the darkness. There has been no shortage of conspiracy theories, either recently or historically, that have left non-believers bewildered at how ‘the other side’ held firm. Writer-director Arthur Harari and his co-writers Bernard Cendron and Vincent Poymiro bring the remarkable struggle of Hiroo Onoda to the screen. Onoda was a Japanese soldier who refused to believe WWII ended, and instead, continued his mission of resistance by spending thirty years in a Filipino jungle.
Onoda was only 22 when he entered the war in 1944. He is played as a young man by Yuya Endo, and in later years by Kanji Tsuda. The film goes mostly in chronological order, with only occasional flashbacks to Onoda’s “special training” by Taniguchi (Issey Ogata), his trainer and trainer. The passing of years is noted on screen, and we watch as Onoda’s squadron shrinks in size, holding at four for quite a while, before shifting to two, and finally only he remains. During the special training, Taniguchi declares, “You don’t have the right to die”, instilling a firm commitment to the cause in Onoda.
Also seared into Onoda’s brain is the proclamation of, “We’ll come back for you. No matter how long it takes, we’ll come back for you.” Still, it’s fascinating to see his determination to keep fighting, despite so many signs that the war was over. He viewed magazine articles and radio broadcasts as tricks to draw him away from his mission … going so far to decipher a coded message that was anything but that.
The young man who finally succeeds in lulling Onoda out of the jungle has his own mission – actually three of them: finding a panda, locating Onoda (by this time a legend), and tracking down a Yeti. It’s a bittersweet moment for the long-dedicated soldier, and he went on to live many more years as a home country icon – considered a nationalist man of honor by some, a murdering fool by others. The film, and Onoda’s saga, makes us question the point of war when it’s impossible to tell if the war is over or ongoing. Harari’s film is almost three hours, which is entirely too long … but significantly shorter than the time Onoda spent in the jungle.
Releasing in theaters on October 14, 2022