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Director and Shoe-Eater Werner Herzog Has Written a World War II Novel

Jake Rossen
Werner Herzog, novelist.
Werner Herzog, novelist. / Pascal Le Segretain/GettyImages
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Film director Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God; Grizzly Man) has always stepped outside the confines of film to pursue his creative urges. As an actor, he’s popped up in The Mandalorian and Jack Reacher; a short film in which he ingests his own footwear to settle a bet, Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, is a kind of performance art piece; and he’s even offered a MasterClass on filmmaking, in which he speculates on breaking the law if it means getting a shot.

It's not all that surprising, then, to see that Herzog has moved to a new medium: novels. On Tuesday, the filmmaker releases his first fiction book, The Twilight World ($23). The slim 144-page volume imagines what life must have been like for Hiroo Onoda, a real Japanese soldier who was tasked with guarding the Philippine island of Lubang during World War II. Largely cut off from communications, Onoda and his small band of men believed the war persevered long after its end in 1945 and spent decades patrolling the territory until he was finally convinced the conflict was over in 1974. (Sporadic attempts to inform him were dismissed as the work of Allied agents.)

Herzog claims to have met the real Onoda while directing the opera Chushingura in Japan in 1997; the two spoke at length about his experiences. Herzog could relate, at least to some extent: He had spent considerable time in the jungle to film Fitzcarraldo. The result is the novel, which Herzog has claimed to be mostly “factually correct” in its details but imagines Onoda’s internal life. (Onoda died in 2014.)

A film about Onoda’s experiences, Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle, was released in 2022 and was directed by Arthur Harari. The Twilight World is available on Amazon.

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