in search of the lost soldier


Perhaps there are no more beautiful stories than those which focus on these great lost ones who, like Don Quixote or Robinson Crusoe, decide to turn their backs on the world and fight against its relentless course. It is to a figure of this order, both superb and pitiful, that the young French filmmaker Arthur Harari, author of an already remarkable Black Diamond (2015), dedicates a second magnificent and adventurous feature film.

Leaving the backdrop of French fiction with a filibuster plume, the film examines the war in the Pacific and its aftermath through the very real case of the last demobilized soldier, Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda, found in 1974 on the island. where he had been sent on a mission, that of Lubang, in the Philippine archipelago, almost thirty years after the end of the conflict and the surrender of his country, Japan. This incredible and dizzying experience is retraced here as an escape from history as it is often said to be written by the victors. And so like the attempt of a vanquished to perpetuate his own reality, even if it had to take refuge in an island, interior territory which Thomas More once made the seat of his Utopia.

Read the portrait at Cannes 2021: with “Onoda”, Arthur Harari films the epic of the forgotten soldier

It is also on a map of the island in question that the film opens, which chooses to start at the end, in 1974, when a Japanese student, a young traveler, goes there in the hope to find the lost soldier, who has become a legend in the country. To bait him, he broadcasts a patriotic song on the edge of the jungle, which becomes the red line of a story built in flashback.

At the origin of a course described as a long exit from the track throne a double failure which made Onoda a loser before the hour: in December 1944, the young conscript failed the training of fighter pilot and revealed himself still too attached to life to end up a suicide bomber. Failures which involve, even more than his honor, rather damaged, his relationship with the father: perceiving the disappointment in the eyes of his grandfather, he throws himself headlong into the arms of Major Taniguchi, a substitute father figure, who offers him a Second chance. With twenty other failed officers, the instructor trains him in “secret war”: an underground guerrilla warfare to guarantee the Japanese strategic positions in the Pacific.

Read also: Arthur Harari cuts his way with his family

Recreate a world

Dispatched to Lubang, Onoda withdrew at the first American strikes in the uninhabited heights of the island, in the heart of nature, with stocks of ammunition and a small hand-picked detachment, soon reduced to three men, including the faithful second Kozuka. Their life is reorganized to the dimensions of the territory, in a frugal proportion of what nature wants to provide them. Step by step, Harari describes the brotherhood that is established between these four companions in a state of alert, united by a threat that persists in not manifesting itself.

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