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Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle

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World War II has been the source of dozens of urban legends and bizarre tales that defy explanation. Hiro Onoda’s story has long been among the most fascinating. by French director Arthur Harari Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle is the most comprehensive approach we have seen so far to the life and work of man. WWII movie junkies will no doubt love this uncompromising and comprehensive film that offers a sobering look at survival and loyalty.

For those unaware, Onoda – played as a young man by Yuya Endo and Kanji Tsuda as he ages – was a Japanese soldier serving in the Philippines at the end of the war as Japan’s prospects for victory seemed to grow darker and darker. After the majority of the Japanese forces on Lubang Island were routed, Onoda and a small group of soldiers escaped into the jungle. There they awaited reinforcements and the right opportunity to regroup and repel the American advance. Subsisting on an almost unlimited supply of coconuts and bananas, they were prepared for the long haul. However, they hadn’t planned for it to be as long as it ultimately turned out to be.

“…unbeknownst to Onoda and her men, Japan surrendered to the Allies…”

The catch is that they escaped into the jungle at the end of the war. As we all know, but unbeknownst to Onoda and his men, Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, just as he and his men were beginning their insurgency plans. Even as the soldiers under his command gradually died and their numbers dwindled, he refused to believe that the war was over. Onoda discovered that contemporary radio broadcasts were American propaganda designed to induce his betrayal of the Emperor. The sequence where Onoda and his longtime compatriot Kozuka try to “decode” this propaganda and decipher the geopolitical landscape of the 1970s is genuinely amusing.

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle covers a lot of ground. It briefly touches on Onoda’s failure as an airman and his subsequent admission into the Japanese special forces, while the rest of the story moves effortlessly from the structure of a war movie to the eventual adoption of the part of a psychological survival drama. It may be too grand in its scope, and all but the most avid WWII history buffs will scoff at the pacing and overall length. Dare I say it might sound like 10,000 nights in the jungle to some? A more selective focus on certain areas of Onoda’s life in the jungle would probably have been in order to make it more palatable to casual audiences.

This reviewer, however, couldn’t get enough. Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle provides a rare insight into the thin line between duty and madness that Onoda has reckoned with for a substantial part of his life. Endo as young Onoda and Tsuda as elder are quite effective. The close relationship that develops between Onoda and Kozuka brings some much-needed warmth to what otherwise could have been a tough watch. It’s essential viewing for anyone with a modicum of interest in WWII history. For weird individuals with no interest, it’s still worth watching due to the powerful character study at play.