Hiro Onoda, the Japanese soldier who took 30 years to surrender

something must have hiro onoda to have aroused the interest of a German writer (and filmmaker) like Werner Herzog and a French director like Arthur Harari. Last year, the first published the novel ‘The twilight of the world’, dedicated to this Japanese soldier who spent three decades on a Philippine island convinced that World War II was not over and there were still chances to win it. The novel has just been published in Spanish by Blackie Books. Harari’s film ‘Onoda, 10,000 nights in the jungle’, premiered on Friday. Book and film share many things, the selection of what they tell is different.

The fascination of the director of ‘Fitzcarraldo’ for Onoda goes back further. In his novel he recounts how in 1997, while in Tokyo to direct the staging of an opera, he screwed up by refusing an invitation from the Japanese emperor and, in return, He said that he would very much like to meet Onoda. And so it happened. 20 years later, in a meeting at the Cannes festival, Herzog met Harari and perhaps then they exchanged opinions about such a fascinating character.

a mythological character

Onoda could have been the protagonist of a Herzog film. It is as mythological as Lope de Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Cobra Verde or Dieter Dengler, a German soldier who fought with the US forces and was taken prisoner in Vietnam, to whom Herzog dedicated a documentary and a fiction starring Christian Bale. Like them, his vital experience is related to life in the jungle, at the ends of the world. The director has preferred to make him the protagonist of a fictional document structured like the pages of a highly selective newspaper. Harari has done something similar in his film.

But what is so special about Hiro Onoda to generate so many literary and cinematographic passions? As told in the film, the young soldier was in a dead end on a personal level when he was recruited by General Yoshimi Taniguchi for a strategic mission that was to be essential to success in the Pacific campaign. He was then 22 years old.

an impossible mission

Born in 1922, Onoda became an intelligence officer and was responsible for a secret war devised by his superior. For it moved to the Philippine island of Lubang in December 1944. He stayed there until mid-1974. His mission was to organize a guerrilla war. But, from the outset, he ran into the opposite opinion of the soldiers he was in charge of. No one believed in that mission. Two months later, on February 23, 1945, the Americans took over the island. On September 2 of that year, Japan signed the unconditional surrender.

Onoda was losing his men, victims of hunger, disease, desertions or attacks by Filipino guerrillas and fishermen. But he was still convinced – or convinced himself that it should be – that the war was not over. Harari shows him in several scenes listening to radio news thanks to a small transistor found in a village. Onoda believed that what he was hearing was part of a US disinformation strategy and he came to think, according to Herzog, that China, Siberia, Laos and India had allied themselves in a new axis to fight the allies. He also ignored the pamphlets dropped on the island announcing the end of the war.


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Things began to change when the Japanese student entered the scene Norio Suzuki. He arrived in Lubang, set up camp, set up loudspeakers and started a tape recording of Onoda’s favorite song. He came down from the mountains and talked with him. In the end Suzuki convinced him. Onoda he only surrendered when ordered by his direct superior, Taniguchi, who had then retired from the army and was working as a bookseller. In the middle of the jungle, before Taniguchi, Onoda handed over his uniform, sword and weapons. On March 11, 1974, 28 and a half years after Japan’s surrender, Onoda offered his saber in a ceremonial act to the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos.

Onoda lived until 2014, while Suzuki died very young, in 1986. Upon his return to Japan, to a cheer, Onoda groped politics and published his memoirs. Finally, he went to Brazil and dedicated himself to raising cattle. He returned to Japan in the mid-1980s. Still, he was not the last Japanese soldier of the war. Teruo Nakamura was arrested on the Indonesian island of Morotai in December 1974, although he confined himself to a hut and stopped fighting in his mid-1950s.


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