A moving epic about a quixotic attempt at a meaningful life [NDNF]

If you think you are wasting your life, consider the case of Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, who spent the years 1945 to 1974 in the jungles of Lubang in the Philippines, where he waged World War II on behalf of Emperor Hirohito. Talk about fighting for a lost cause; and making a film about the most famous and among the last of the Japanese “holdout soldiers” from the Pacific War may seem like a similarly foolhardy task to the French filmmaker Arthur Harari. Men “Onoda – 10,000 nights in the jungle”Which lasts two hours and 45 minutes, is an achievement: a moving and multifaceted film about one man’s quixotic attempt to live a meaningful life.

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Educated in “secret warfare” and forbidden to surrender or commit suicide, Onoda – played in his youth by Yuya Endo and in its Middle Ages by Kanji Tsuda-sent to Lubang, southwest of Manila, with orders to sabotage military installations in preparation for a US invasion. But the island is too quickly overrun, and then abandoned; pulled back to the jungle in the middle of the island, Onoda and the remnants of his unit dig in for a guerrilla campaign on behalf of, they suspect, a derogatory Japanese army. Onoda had been trained to “be your own officer” by his major Taniguchi (the great Issey Ogatawho played Hirohito in Sokurov‘s “The sun“Which covers the emperor’s decision to renounce his divinity.) And then he waged a secret war, mostly in his own heart, and sticks to bushido for an absent god.

Although it is a film about an inner flame of devotion, this is an ensemble piece, not a “Throw away“Many of the longest-serving holdout soldiers were the only surviving members of units that endured collectively for at least a few years, if not longer, and Harari takes the time to develop the group dynamics between Onoda and his men as they feed melons. and build cabins for the monsoon season.Map of the island, photographed by the director’s brother Empty Harari in lush green and rich brown colors they are pioneers in paradise, just like the soldiers in their spare time in “The thin red line“They carry out strategic raids, burn rice fields and kill cows, both to feed themselves and to disrupt the activities of Filipinos, who, they insist, are hostile combatants.” Onoda, a devoted soldier from a brutal imperial army.) As the years drag on and the four-man unit begins to fray under the pressure of their Sisyphean efforts, Harari balances a Japanese perspective on the clarifying work of duty and dedication with a Western existential melancholy.

Onoda and his men were known on the island, and the Japanese government made an effort to contact them. Leaflets were rejected as propaganda, as here are radio broadcasts and updated color news magazines, whose spray-painted images radically update the island’s Edenic palette; even prayers from family members are taken for fake news. Given the epistemic distortions required by his nationalist fantasies, Onoda becomes a very contemporary figure, a truly Reject Modernity / Embrace Tradition meme. (A big omission, though it’s hard to blame Harari for not knowing how to deal with it, is whether Onoda knew about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and how he felt about it.) Like Onoda and his Deputy Commander Kozuka (Yuya Matsuurathen Tetsuya Chiba) steal radio batteries so they can listen to the moon landing while still maintaining a posture of vigilance, their camaraderie takes the contours of a madness for two.

At the time Onoda encounters a student backpacker looking for “a giant panda, Lieutenant Onoda and Yeti, in that order” (a close paraphrase of what Norio Suzuki, Stanley to Onoda’s Livingstone, actually said in 1974), he is basically. a tourist attraction. (Although characters in the film refer to Onoda as the last soldier from World War II, he was not, though he barely – Teruo Nakamura, whose war ended a few months after Onoda’s, was a much more complicated affair, as a recruited private and aboriginal member of a people native to the Japanese island colony that was when he came out of the jungle, Taiwan.) “Onoda” is long, but how could it not be? Harari handles the passage of time fluently and encapsulates the passage of years in cuts to natural rhythms and repetitive tasks, with only a major leap forward in chronology. Minutes and years gather, the grass grows over graves, the land forgets and Onoda remembers. The film documents his years within a historical ellipse and pays off with a sense of true significance as Onoda finally flies away from the only life he has ever known.

But in fact, Harari stops in a fascinating moment. The lieutenant returned a famous hero with parades in his honor, a nostalgic moral icon of a Japan whose post-war materialistic values ​​sometimes alienated him, and who also rejected the militaristic and imperial ideals he had served. He wanted to live in the modern world for longer than he was on Lubang: Hiroo Onoda died in Tokyo at the age of 91, in January 2014. [B+]

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