Sometimes you hear a story that completely changes your life.
WWII ofﬁcer Hiroo Onoda made international headlines when he surrendered in 1974, ending thirty years of holdout on Lubang Island in the Philippines. Claiming to not know the war was over, he was hailed a hero; but can he really uphold that image when civilians were killed in the name of a war already ended?
From the moment I learned about Onoda’s thirty year war, I knew I had to tell this story. Searching For Onoda is the journey that took me across continents, spanning decades, in search for answers to a truly unbelievable story, and to tell the untold side of this thirty year war.
If you’d like to see this film, you can make a tax deductible donation that will go directly to production and post production costs, allowing us to finish the film. Our goal is to complete post production by Spring 2022.
Army stragglers, or holdouts, were soldiers of the Imperial Japanese Army who continued ﬁghting after the surrender of Japan in August 1945. Japanese holdouts either doubted the veracity of the formal surrender, or were simply not aware of Japan’s defeat. While there are many holdouts scattered around the Paciﬁc, this story focuses on one particular holdout named Hiroo Onoda, an intelligence ofﬁcer who was posted to Lubang Island in the Philippines. This tiny island became the centre of international headlines as the search for Onoda continued from the late 1950s, until he surrendered on March 12th 1974, ﬁnally ending thirty years of holdout. Onoda was returned to a modern Tokyo and hailed a hero; he claimed to not know the war was over and had surrendered in his army uniform, his riﬂe still in working condition. Wittingly or not, he became a symbol of prewar Japan, a media sensation at times called a “true samurai”. Other times, he was called a coward.
I learned about Hiroo Onoda through my mother, who grew up on Lubang Island. She was 11 years old the day Onoda surrendered, and she recalls running with her classmates down the street, chasing the army helicopters and shouting, “Banzai, Nippon!” She had grown up with stories of the mythical soldier hiding in the outskirts of their village, and while she had never seen him herself until the day he surrendered, she had heard stories from her brothers and cousins about Onoda. “Don’t venture too far out from the farm, or you’ll be shot.” But when she told me about her uncle Emilio who was shot and killed by Onoda while working on his farm, I started to question Onoda’s claim that he did not know the war was over. After reading his autobiography No Surrender: My Thirty Year War I realised that my mother’s story and the voice of my relatives was missing from it’s pages; motivated to tell their story, I set out on my own search for Onoda, to ask, “Did he know the war was over?”
Hiroo Onoda is arguably the most famous of the Japanese WWII army holdouts, and he is still largely revered in Japan. Since beginning my research, I have found numerous articles and forums mentioning Onoda and his ‘sacrifice’, his ‘honour’ and his dedication. Onoda even features in a Fargo episode Who Rules The Land of Denial, and in Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck. Both examples recognise his stubbornness and self delusion, but neither mention the cost his thirty year war, or who paid for it with their lives.
Onoda’s thirty year war sparks interest, even decades after he surrendered. His story is repeatedly shared, and retold. Just recently a French-Japanese-German-Belgian-Italian-Cambodian co-production titled Onoda opened Un Certain Regard at Cannes. As interest in his story grows, I am compelled to make Searching for Onoda the antidote to the glorification of war; to instead gives a voice to those who have never before been asked to tell their story.
Though the story of Hiroo Onoda and his thirty year war has been told in screen, it has not been told in a feature length documentary by someone from Lubang Island. I represent the community, as well as the people whose lives were affected by the violent shootings. My grandfather’s brother was working on his farm when he shot and killed by Onoda in 1951. His death was one of a reported thirty civilian deaths at the hands of Onoda. A recent 2017 production made by NHK touched on the islanders’ perspectives, but it was still made for a Japanese audience. My documentary is made for a wider international market, and presents the complex and varied views of Onoda, from the Philippine, Japanese and Western perspectives.
The fact that Onoda was willing to meet with me, before his passing, indicates the beginnings of a reconciliation. I believe this documentary will open the discussion again for a formal apology and acknowledgment of the war crimes committed by Onoda on the people of Lubang Island.
By providing a Japanese perspective I am also inviting them to discuss what Onoda represents in modern society. Whilst the documentary outcome will impact a speciﬁc group of people (people from Lubang Island and people involved in the Nature School), the questions it asks about good and evil, forgiveness and redemption are universal. One of the key interviews I have is with the son’s of Onoda’s ghostwriter, Tsuda Shin. Having ghostwritten Onoda’s memoirs, and essentially been responsible for the portrayal of Onoda as a soldier and omitting the killings from history, this interview with the writer’s sons is a revelation. I believe this documentary will encourage discussion for how we as a society view war, imperialism and colonisation of a people. The washing of historical events as a way to absolve crime in order maintain political relations isn’t signiﬁcant to this story alone, but echoes other historical events and ﬁgures around the world.
In a recent article about the Cannes premiere of Onoda (Dir. Arthur Harari), the writer notes that at the 2021 “pandemiCannes, where “Onoda” opened the Un Certain Regard section, and where elite audiences reportedly continue to carry on as if things were normal by flouting mask rules, this portrait of a man who chose to shut out the outside world had an eerie resonance.”
There are two parts to Searching For Onoda, there is the documentary film to be completed, and the Japanese-English book translation of Gensou No Eiyuu to be printed and release concurrently with the film.
THE FILM: SEARCHING FOR ONODA
Production ﬁlming is 75% complete, and was funded through personal finances, crowdfunding with Pozible, Indiegogo and Creative Partnerships Australia.
From 2008 to 2018 there were interviews conducted on location in Australia, the Philippines and Japan.
As of June 2021, the picture edit requires pick up shots of myself during the editing process, to tie the story together with my narration.
The shoot days are scheduled for Summer/Fall 2021 for the interview in Nashville Tennessee, and on-location in LA in an ﬁnal edit suite (staged or real).
There are animation sequences to be created and inserted into the edit, and I will be hiring a Filipino female animator/illustrator. Some temporary animation sequences can be found in the edit samples and trailer, as a general guide for the aesthetic and tone.
Given the extended nature of ﬁlming and the urgency of needing to ﬁlm while the aging subjects were still available, post production (editing) has commenced alongside the production ﬁlming, and the edit progressed as more interviews were secured.
A portion of the footage used in the cut was actually footage intended for research only, however, as time progressed on the project and access to the subjects became limited, that research footage is the only footage available. For example, two key interviews have passed away, and my research footage is the only interview in existence.
After the ﬁnal production shoot in March 2018, I worked on a new edit. After relocating from Sydney to Los Angeles, post production has continued and editing is pending a ﬁnal interviews in Summer and Fall 2021.
THE BOOK: Gensou No Eiyuu
Onoda’s biography My Thirty Year War was published in 1975, and translated from Japanese to English. It is really the only printed account of his thirty year war, told from his perspective and in chronological order from his fateful orders that posted him to Lubang Island in 1944, to the day of his surrender in 1974.This book however was written by a ghostwriter, Tsuda Shin, who published his own memoirs of Onoda’s biography. This book, Gensou No Eiyuu has been translated* from Japanese to English, and now needs to be edited and printed, ready for release alongside the documentary.
*The Japanese to English translation has already been personally funded.
Searching For Onoda is a Roy Dean Grant Spring 2021 Finalist.
HOW CAN YOU HELP TELL THIS STORY?
Given the current interest in Onoda’s story, and the recent dramatised film about Onoda, we feel like now is the time more than ever to tell this story, and we want to complete this film by Spring 2022.
Principle filming has been completed, and we need your help to get this documentary film over the line and onto screens.
We need approximately $138, 250 to complete the ﬁlm, and an estimated $8,500 to print the book.
Your generous donation will cover costs for:
- flights to Nashville for filming
- camera and sound for 2 days shoot in Nashville
- recording narration
- 4-6 weeks of picture edit
- colour grade
- sound edit and mix
- licensing fees for archival footage
- recording musicians for the score
- graphics and marketing
All donations are 100% tax-deductible through our 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor From the Heart Productions. You will be sent a receipt per email as soon as your donation has been processed.
Thank you for your support!
For a full budget breakdown, please email
If you are unable to support financially, we would appreciate your support in sharing this fundraising page.
PRODUCTION AND POST PRODUCTION CREW
Mia Stewart was born in the Philippines, and grew up in various coastal towns from the west to the east of Australia. Always drawn to story-telling, she completed her Bachelor in Media and Communications at La Trobe University in Melbourne, with majors in Radio and Film production. Following her love for story and sound, Mia completed postgraduate studies with Australia’s premier training institution The Australian Film Television and Radio School, majoring in Sound Production for Screen and Interactive. Searching For Onoda has been a personal project for Mia and is her ﬁrst documentary feature. She hopes to continue sharing stories about Filipino culture through future documentaries. Mia has been the main camera operator, sound recordist, producer and
interviewer for the 2008, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018 shoots. Currently Mia is also the editor for trailers, pitch promos and the beginnings of the rough cut, in consultancy with Eurie Chung at Flash Cuts, and other mentors in the US and Australia.
Maiko Endo, Japanese, was born in Finland. She grew up in Tokyo and New-York. Violinist by training, Endo composed music for ﬁlms and artistic installations. Shot in both black-and-white and color, KUICHISAN – Endoʼs debut picture is an imagistic portrait of its location, Okinawa, the Japanese islands controlled by the United States until the early 1970s. She lives and works in Tokyo today. Her second feature TECHNOLOGY is on its way. Maiko has been working with Searching For Onoda since 2015, coordinating the shoots in Japan, acting as translator and researcher.
Christopher Frey is an Executive Producer at Cross Media International where he has led dozens of commercial, television, and ﬁlm projects shot around the world. He has collaborated with directors such as Wes Anderson, David Fincher, and Spike Jonze, as well as working with several A-list talent on a variety of projects including the likes of George Clooney, Cameron Diaz, Hugh Jackman, and Brad Pitt. Chris served as an executive producer on the international co-production of THE HUMAN TRUST, a feature ﬁlm which was shot on location in Japan, Russia, Thailand, and the US, producing the ﬁlm’s climactic scenes around Manhattan and within the General Assembly at the United Nations. Making his ﬁrst foray into television by producing LIGHTSCAPES for Discovery followed by PEOPLE MAGNET TV for NTV in Japan, he is now leading the development of a live-action TV series adapted from an internationally acclaimed, best-selling manga. Chris co-founded CMI in 2003 after several years of working at creative agencies and startups in the US, Europe, and Japan, prior to which he received two research fellowships and earned dual Bachelor of Arts degrees from Occidental College in Los Angeles and the International Division Program at Waseda University in Tokyo.
Eurie Chung, Producer for Flash Cuts, is an independent producer and editor focused on community-based documentaries. While pursuing a graduate degree at UCLA in Asian American Studies, Chung fell into community ﬁlmmaking, directing & editing METRO ES PARA TODOS: HEE POK ‘GRANDMA’ KIM AND THE BUS RIDERS UNION, a documentary short proﬁling an elderly Korean immigrant activist, for her master’s thesis. She has continued working on a wide range of independent documentaries, producing the interactive documentary project K-TOWN ’92, as well as documentaries OFF THE MENU: ASIAN AMERICA and LIFE ON FOUR STRINGS: THE JAKE SHIMABUKURO STORY. Chung also manages Flash Cuts, a post-production facility which has ﬁnished TYRUS, MELE MURALS, and AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY: THE EVOLUTION OF GRACE LEE BOGGS, among
Gwen Sputore began in her work in film industry, as a runner, best boy and assistant editor. Gwendalina moved to Broome, in Western Australia, and began working as an editor on community documentaries and dramas, as well as broadcast documentaries, and teaching video
production skills at schools and private Indigenous organizations in and around the Kimberley and Pilbara Region.
In 2009, Gwendalina moved to Sydney, where she working as a fulltime Editing lecturer at the prestigious, Australian, Film Television and Radio School, for 12 months, then in as part-time Editing lecturer for Graduate Certificate Drama Course for a further three years.
Then Gwendalina began working as freelance editor in Sydney, and in the nine years there has amassed experience in a wide variety of genre’s in Reality, Factual, Lifestyle, Documentaries and Drama.
In 2018, Gwendalina moved to Melbourne with her son, and continued working as a freelance editor.
Gwendalina has worked on numerous short films, highlights include 2014 ACE Winner of Editing in Short Drama ‘Godel Incomplete’, ‘Little Hands’, winner at 2012 WOW Editing Award, ‘Dance Me to The End of
Love’, 2012 SFF Dendy Awards, nominated for best film in, and winner Best Short Film, LA Film Festival 2012. ‘Mabuji’, 2010 St Kilda Film Festival, nominated best short film, ‘The Bridge’, winner 2010 WOW
Festival SBS award, ‘Inside Story’, 2010 nominated best short animation, Giffoni Film Festival, Italy, ‘Identity in Motion’, 2009, WOW Festival, nominated best documentary.
COMPOSER David Barber is a versatile composer and musician with many years of experience in the ﬁlm and television industry. In recent years he has scored several feature ﬁlms including award winning sci-ﬁ thriller Restoration and critically acclaimed drama Teenage Kicks, the latter of which earning him a nomination for ‘Best Original Score’ at the 2016 AACTA Awards. He was also a nominee for an APRA Screen Music Award as well as a ﬁnalist for the APRA Personal Development Awards. David is also a frequent collaborator with some of Australia’s most notable ﬁlm composers and studios including Christopher Gordon (Master & Commander, Mao’s Last Dancer), Martin Armiger (ABC News, Young Einstein). He has also been part of the music department for several feature ﬁlms
including Happy Feet 2, Drift, and Red Dog. Recently, David scored a documentary Endless Road covering the life of famous Australian guitar player Tommy Emmanuel.
ANIMATION DIRECTOR Australia Award winning director Jacquie Trowell is a front-runner in her ﬁeld, having directed hundreds of productions in all animation media. Nominated for a Golden Bear at the Berlin Biennale for the highly acclaimed ‘Beyond Freedom’, Jacquie’s clients include Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Network BBDO, Saatchi & Saatchi, Jupiter Drawing Room, Metropolitan Republic, JWT, Hunt Lascaris TBWA, Sesame Workshop and Unicef. Jacquie’s variety of visual style comes from her collaborative approach to ﬁlmmaking – by opting to collude with artists, hand picked for suitability to a speciﬁc job, her productions have a perpetually fresh, unique and exciting quality. Jacquie presently works both as an independent director and the creative director of Sydney based animation company Sugar Bird.
Camera – Scott Larson
● Denise Haslem (Awards winning Australian producer/editor)
● Mook Denton (Australian producer)
● Hiromi Matsuoka (Japanese Australian researcher/producer)
● Tom Zubrycki (award winning Australian director/producer)