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PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2022 3:51 pm 
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ARTHUR HARARI: ONODA - 10000 NIGHTS IN THE JUNGLE (2021) - New Directors/New Films Apr. 23, 24, 2022 NYC



When Japan surrenders at the end of World War II, soldier Hiroo Onoda retreats into the jungles of the Philippines to continue the war himself for another 10,000 days. This is his story.

"An ambitious undertaking that fulfills its promise," Lisa Nesselson in Screen Daily. calls Onoda in her enthusiastic review. Veteran reviewer Mark Shilling of The Japan Times notes further that "Sometimes non-Japanese directors tell stories on the big screen that Japanese filmmakers and studios shy away from. Sometimes, these reasons are political." He cites Paul Schrader's 1985 Mishima film. Yes, the story of Onoda, and other Japanese WWII Japanese diehards who went on "fighting" the war for decades, is a complicated and ambiguous one, and there are moments in the Onoda story that some members of the Japanese audience may find embarrassing; hence it is not at all surprising that it fell to 41-year-old Paris-born Arthur Harari to make the first important movie about this subject. But it does seem a little miraculous that he made such a good job of it. This is a rich and deeply though-provoking historical film about the drawn-out aftermath of WWII and the Japanese unwillingness to surrender.

Though Harari attracted notice for his French-language multi-layered heist-revenge debut film Dark Diamond set among diamond dealers in Antwerp, Onoda is more significant, indeed a real epic. Peter Bradshaw calls it "really well-made, old-fashioned anti-war epic in a forthright and robustly enjoyable style," and that's important. It's involving and it entertains as a tale of endurance. But also brings out the absurdity of bellicose, macho ideals of fighting to the end. Yuya Enndo as the young Hiroo Onoda is excellent. Exuding a kind of raw energy that blends insecurity with passionate authority, he gives his all to the role and convinces you his character could indeed have become an indomitable leader in a desperate, drawn-out saga of jungle endurance and combat.

Flashbacks explain Onoda's complicated military background. With a fear of heights, he initially washes out as a kamikaze pilot, or rather, refuses to fly a plane with only enough gas to go to the enemy ship, not to return. Instead he is recruited by Major Taniguchi (Issei Ogata) for a special training mission for the so-called Secret War requiring that the officers involved, in a last-ditch holdout effort of Japan's Pacific war, must at all costs not die. This is a key difference, rejecting the Japanese penchant for suicide (which Mishima ritually embraced) in favor of the pursuit of endless warfare and indomitability, each man acting "as his own officer" - as a lone survivalist in a lingering jungle war. "We will always come for you," the stylish, shades-wearing Taniguchi assures them. Lt. Onoda's little crew is sent to the Philippines island of Lubang. They map it, name its points of interest, and consider it theirs despite its being occupied by Filipino farmers they regard as enemies. They go on surviving after the Japanese surrender has been signed, preying upon the locals, who fight back - thus creating the effect that they are indeed still at war.

The scenes of Onoda when at first he is lodged with the war-weary cell 900 crew include eye-opening images of pervasive sickness, depletion, starvation, and desperation, the ugly losing side of the last-stage war. What come next are images of brainwashing, which some reviewers have linked with the new disturbing tendency for people to latch onto absurd conspiracy theories. That may help one understand how Onoda and others could insist every report by Filipinos that "the war is over" ( proclaimed in poorly-pronounced English) is nothing but "fake news," and feel obliged to go on "fighting" when what they are now doing has lost the sanction of war and become robbery and murder. The timeline is late 1944.

The aim of the film isn't to chronicle decades of bellicose Robinson Crusoe survival drudgery month by month or year by year but to look at this man as a phenomenon, highlighting the attrition of his little crew. Hence the need to jump forward to the much older Hiroo Onoda, played by Kanji Tsuda (who has played minor roles in Takeshi Kitano films), first seen in 1974 wearing a whole bush on his back as camouflage and laying flowers in sites were comrades have died over the years. Eventually his original group of soldiers has shrunk to no one but Onoda's one longtime comrade, Kozuka (Yuya Matsuura, then Testsuya Chiba), still with mindless heroism "serving the Emperor." as Lisa Nesselson wrote, "with a zeal that becomes its own hermetic and needless devotion." Nesselson compares the pair's 1950 reaction to Onoda's father using a loudspeaker to urge him to come out - one of several efforts - to "what QAnon dolts would now call a 'crisis actor'" pretending to be his father to trick him into surrendering.

By the time Onoda and Kozuka pick up news — "via a little transistor radio made by a new-ish company called Sony — of men walking on the moon," Nesselson writes, "having stayed vigilant and in fighting trim while continuing to wait for reinforcements to repulse the enemy, it seems like a feat as amazing as anything NASA may have accomplished." Or perhaps more like something in that Forties classic, Ripley's Believe It Or Not? The accomplishment of Harari and his cowriters Bernard Cendron and Vincent Poymiro is that they penetrate into this novelty and find the nobility and courage lodged within it.

Finally a nervy young man, who boasts of having visited 50 countries, is found by the now long solitary Onoda camping on the island. Face to face, Norio Suzuki (Taiga Nakano) tells Onoda-san that he's famous but that many think he's dead. Onoda agrees to surrender but only if his immediate superior, Major Taniguchi, comes and gives him the orders. The young man makes this happen. Some details of the film may be questioned (how can you keep a uniform and boots going for 30 years of jungle and monsoons? How did he find batteries for the little Sony radio?) but the power of the film is its human interactions, its noble poses, its silences, and these are fine. This winds up being a complicated tribute to Japanese will and noble determination and honor - and to Japanese foolhardiness and destructiveness.

Onoda/ONODA 一万夜を越えて, 173 mins., debuted at Cannes 2021, where it was the opening film of the Un Certain Regard section, and it was included in eight other festivals including Karlovy Vary, Busan and Warsaw. One of the memorable films of New Directors/New Films (Apr. 20-May 1, 2022) , showing Apr. 23 and 24. When it opened theatrically in France Jul. 21, 2021 it received raves, and an AlloCiné press rating of 4.4 or 88%. (See the interview with Harari about the film in ineropa )


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