“War is over!” shout the outraged inhabitants of the remote island of Lubang – but Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda doesn’t want it, won’t have it and is liable to shoot anybody who so much as points it out. The commando, we learn, is under strict orders to keep the Pacific theatre open and the US forces out of the Philippines, and never mind the fact that the world has long since moved on and there’s rock’n’roll music on his crystal wireless set.
Along the way, the director, Arthur Harari, takes the exhausted true tale of the lone Japanese soldier and sculpts it into a captivating tragicomedy, a sharp-eyed study of zealotry and self-delusion, ridiculous and heartbreaking in about equal measure. Onoda (played in his youth by Yûya Endô; in later years by Kanji Tsuda) starts out commanding a small unit of fellow grunts. Harari shows them wandering the jungle like JM Barrie’s lost boys, occasionally running on to the beach to startle the local fishermen. But, as the years crawl by, the number dwindles until finally there’s only the lonesome lieutenant left, hopelessly lost in the woods, playing his forlorn game of soldiers after everyone else has gone to bed.