Review: Onoda, a crazy French film about the “last remaining soldier”


During the Cannes Film Festival, Konbini shares his favorites with you.

Onoda, what’s this ?

Onoda, this is an anomaly. In the French cinema financing system, and in the current model, Onoda is an anomaly. Something that we are proud and happy that it exists, especially when, on paper, it seemed impossible. We can easily imagine the pitch of French director Arthur Harari when he went to see producers to try to sell his project when he only has one film to his credit:

“So, for my second feature film, I would like to make a French film, but entirely in Japanese, where we follow a soldier over thirty years stranded on an island in the Philippines and who thinks that the war in the Pacific has not It never ended. The whole cast will be either Japanese or Filipino, all the dialogue too, and it will last 2 hours 45 minutes with only outdoor filming. “

Impossible, and yet. The film object is there, and it tells the true story of Onoda, a soldier who finds himself having to militarily guard a small Philippine island, Lubang, near Luzon, in 1944 to prevent any population uprising or invasion. And all this in the hope that they will be picked up, him and his team of three other soldiers.

He was ordered never to surrender and to wait for reinforcements to arrive. The intelligence officer scrupulously obeyed. The deliverance will not come until 1974, more than 30 years later. Thirty years of getting by in the jungle, without seeing the world change, alone in the world, far from everything. But when the Japanese troops were defeated, he took refuge in the mountains with three of his men in order to continue the fight.

Why is it good?

Already, by its scope and its purpose, Onoda impressed. An indisputable fact, even for the few who would be more reluctant. To see a French filmmaker go so far, to tell a story so far from our own, but which is ultimately universal, is an endless pleasure. And it goes further. The film is generous, insanely pure, and is able to take us from laughter to tears, from disgust to surprise, in no time at all.

The story has a particular rhythm, since once the characters are presented, Harari ignores the story and focuses on the moments in the life of these stranded soldiers. And this, despite a fairly impressive duration, without ever boring the viewer. The editing gives the impression that we live slices of everyday life in real time, the better to cling to what they are experiencing, to this horrible false reality but which nevertheless suits them.

Because the interest of the central character is the permanent ambiguity between his desire not to die, the need to respect instructions and the denial of reality. Man has, on several occasions, the keys to understand that the conflict to which he clings is over. The author does not show, even if the viewer has an idea, whether it is stupidity, unconsciousness or a desire not to find the real world. Onoda doesn’t want peace.

For this fresco, Harari makes anti-Apocalypse Now – this is an obvious reference. An adventure film without twists and turns or spectacular stunts. A closed door with four characters on a huge territory, a survival film but where the protagonists can leave at any time and where the feeling of being a prisoner is not really there. An anti-spectacular film, but with perfect photography and staging.

His way of filming wetness, humidity, lean bodies, and zooming in on the smallest details of this jungle and bruised faces lets shine through without ever explicitly showing a lot of contradictory feelings. Aided by a subdued color, and a palpable image grain, Onoda is a visually amazing movie.

A question then arises: why this incredible epic was not in the official selection?

What do we remember?

The actor who is doing well: Kanji Tsuda, Imperial in older Onoda.

The main quality : Besides seeing a French production on this Japanese subject, its great strength remains its ambition, its scale, its staging, its modesty and the way its author tells this story.

The main flaw: A set-up that may seem a bit long, especially the first half hour.

A movie that you will like if you liked:Apocalypse Now ‘ mixed with ‘Alone in the world’. Well, not really, but a bit anyway.

It could have been called : ‘30 years, or nothing ‘.

The quote to summarize the film: Of crazy ambition.



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