The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema] - ONODA: 10,000 NIGHTS IN THE JUNGLE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema] - ONODA: 10,000 NIGHTS IN THE JUNGLE

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle review
Unaware of the end of WWII, a Japanese soldier hides in the Philippines' jungle.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Arthur Harari

Starring: Yuya Endo, Kanji Tsuda, Shinsuke Kato, Kai Inowaki, Issey Ogata, Taiga Nakano

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle poster

Pssst, did you hear the one about the WW2 Japanese soldier stationed on some remote island who didn’t realise the war was over and carried on as a commander for decades labouring on under the erroneous impression that global conflict was still waging? Of course you did: it’s a popular modern folklore beloved of racists like Michael off Alan Partridge, a derisive embroidery retold in order to reinforce the superiority of the teller and to belittle ‘the other’.  In all honesty, I had dismissed the story as an absurd confection, but, as ever, it transpires that the truth is stranger than fiction: in Arthur Harari’s (with writing duties shared by Bernard Cendro and Vincent Poymiro) Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle the real-life experience of Hiroo Onoda (that very soldier), is recounted in an epic story exploring loyalty, duty and tragic fealty to authority. As it so often does when the facile dimensions of war legends are detailed and linked to the actual human beings involved, it turns out that the tale proper is at once inspiring, moving and heartrendingly futile.

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle review

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle’s plot is related across three intertwining time periods: Onoda’s training as a young solider, the initial posting to Lubang Island in the Philippines and early years of conflict, and the wilderness era of Onoda wandering the forests alone, fulfilling his sworn oath to emperor and country. The three are symbiotic as the actual reasons for Onoda’s fidelity to his role are not due, the film suggests, to ignorance of wider global events, but the pact he took to not surrender or take his own life. During the preliminary sequences of training, we see Onoda’s (played here by Yûya Endô) youthful verve and desire to serve his country ossify into airtight conditioning, a calcification of personality and absolute allegiance to the Japanese cause. A Japanese soldier ‘isn’t controlled by his stomach’, and instead his duty is to ‘die for the emperor’, as a drill instructor screams.

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle review

As a lifelong pacifist and mistruster of authority, the credo rests uneasy with this reviewer (a theory: the reason why bad bunches triumph is their unthinking conviction in their awful beliefs, the necessary lack of perspective). Such pinko liberal thinking is entirely compounded by Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle’s mise-en-scene. When we arrive at the island, it is completely gorgeous. The frame fills with the deep, verdant colour of the Philippine jungle - a site of such calm and emotive beauty that you wonder how any unnatural violence could ever occur there. Of course, when Onoda and his platoon - a right Dad’s Army - rock up, they bring conflict along with them: blowing up bits of the island, menacing the peasant population, and attracting the carnage of allied strikes. The jungle enacts a slow but inexorable revenge, however, with the soldiers having to hard adapt to its wild terrains and treacherous facets. Across the course of what becomes a survivalist narrative of such dangers as typhoons, guerrilla fishermen and disease (a particularly meaty sequence sees wounds infected by maggots - ugh!), we witness, one by one, each of his compadres succumb, leaving Onoda (by now played by the older Kanji Tsuda) alone.

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle review

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle’s three hours proves to be utterly riveting (and the extended running time is, of course, a necessary assimilation of the soldier’s enduring stretch in the jungle).  Harari is too judicious a filmmaker to invite bias, and duly tells the story of this poor, deluded young/old man with a thought-provoking objectivity. Exhausted, starved and waging a war that the rest of the world would rather put behind it, but if Onoda is not a soldier then what is he? His sense of duty has rotted into languid habit, an inevitable consequence of societal indoctrination: it is the only identity he has. His holdout nature reminds us of the aspects of wartime we would perhaps rather forgo when things are not as immediate. An individual desire to commit violence, and to willingly submit to authority under the false auspices of patriotism, with our sense of humanity long lost in the wilderness.

Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle is in UK cinemas from April 15th.

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