May 31, 2010

“The Last Japanese Soldier”

Japan surrendered in 1945, ending World War II. But the war continued for another 29 years in the mind of Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese intelligence officer assigned to Lubang Island off Mindoro . When he finally emerged from the jungle in 1974 and returned to Japan , he was celebrated as a devoted soldier.

Howie Severino and his I-Witness team retrace some of Onoda’s steps in the rugged forest of Lubang and imagine his life in the wild. But they also discover some ugly truths about what he did to survive and persist in his mission.

When the Allied Forces returned to Lubang Island in 1945, the Japanese military had no choice but to retreat. Hoping for a Japanese counterattack, Onoda and his men did everything to survive in the jungle and prepared themselves to fight till the end. Surrender was not an option.

For many years since World War II, Lt. Hiroo Onoda and his three Japanese soldiers lived off the resources of the jungle and of the residents of Lubang Island – armed with warrior instincts of survival, force and intimidation. For 29 years, going to the jungle was no easy task for the residents because somewhere in that expanse was Lt. Onoda, the lone surviving Japanese guerrilla who continued to carryout his military orders. For 29 years, some Filipino lives were lost for a war that no longer existed.

Howie Severino and outdoorsman David Tajan enter the jungles of Lubang Island to retrace the trails of Lt. Onoda. How did this environment define the hero that Lt. Onoda now is? And where do the casualties of war, the Lubang residents, fit in a war that is only imagined?

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