Werner Herzog to tell story of Japanese soldier who refused to surrender

Werner Herzog is writing a book about Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who took three decades to surrender after the end of the second world war.

The esteemed German film director’s take on the life of Onoda, The Twilight World, will be translated by the poet Michael Hofmann, and published next summer by The Bodley Head. A memoir by Herzog will follow in 2023, reflecting on his life and the decades he has spent in the film industry, creating films including Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, and documentaries Grizzly Man and Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

The books are the first in many years from Herzog, whose previous title was a series of reflections on the making of Fitzcarraldo, Conquest of the Useless, first published in 2004. Of Walking in Ice, his account of his walk from Munich to Paris when he learned his mentor Lotte Eisner was dying, was originally published in 1978.

Onoda was a Japanese army intelligence officer who came out of hiding in the Philippine jungle in 1974. He had refused to believe that the war had ended in 1945, dismissing it as allied propaganda. His former commanding officer eventually persuaded him to surrender, travelling to his hideout and convincing him of Japan’s defeat almost three decades earlier. Onoda went on to emigrate to Brazil in 1975, where he became a farmer, returning to Japan in 1984 to open nature camps for children. He died aged 91 in 2014.

“[Herzog’s] moving portrait of Onoda’s seemingly senseless struggle offers a profound meditation of the human condition,” said Bodley Head editorial director Jörg Hensgen. “Building an opera house in the middle of the jungle; walking from Munich to Paris in the dead of winter; descending into an active volcano; living in the wilderness among grizzly bears – Werner Herzog has always been intrigued by extremes of human experience.”

Hensgen added that the director’s subsequent memoir would be “filled to the brim with memorable stories and poignant observations”, and would “throw fascinating light on the influences and ideas that drive Herzog’s creativity and have shaped his unique view of the world”.

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