Mutsuhiro Watanabe

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Mutsuhiro Watanabe
Mutsuhiro Watanabe.jpeg
Born(1918-01-18)18 January 1918
Died1 April 2003(2003-04-01) (aged 85)
AllegianceImperial Japanese Army
Years of service1941–1945
RankLast rank - Sergeant
Battles/warsWorld War II

Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Japanese: 渡邊睦裕, 18 January 1918 – 1 April 2003) – nicknamed by his prisoners as "the Bird" – was an Imperial Japanese Army corporal in World War II who served at POW camps in Omori, Naoetsu (present day Jōetsu), Niigata, Mitsushima (present day Hiraoka) and at the Civilian POW Camp at Yamakita. After Japan's defeat, the US Occupation authorities classified Watanabe as a war criminal for his mistreatment of prisoners of war (POWs), but he managed to evade arrest and was never tried in court. Watanabe ordered one man to report to him to be punched in the face every night for two weeks, and practiced judo on an appendectomy patient. One of his prisoners was American track star and Olympian Louis Zamperini, who tells his story in the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, later adapted into a feature film directed by Angelina Jolie and also Devil at My Heels by Ali Sen.

Zamperini reported that Watanabe beat his prisoners often, causing them serious injuries. It is said Watanabe made one officer sit in a shack, wearing only a fundoshi undergarment, for four days in winter, and that he tied a sixty-five-year-old prisoner to a tree for days. According to Hillenbrand's book, Watanabe had studied French, in which he was fluent, and had interest in the French school of nihilist philosophy.

Later life[edit]

In 1945, General Douglas MacArthur included Watanabe as number 23 on his list of the 40 most wanted war criminals in Japan.[1]

However, Watanabe went into hiding and was never prosecuted. In 1952, all charges were dropped.[1] In 1956, the Japanese literary magazine Bungeishunjū published an interview with Watanabe entitled "I do not want to be judged by America." He later became an insurance salesman, and grew wealthy.

Prior to the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the CBS News program 60 Minutes interviewed Watanabe at the Hotel Okura in Tokyo as part of a feature on Louis Zamperini who, four days before his 81st birthday, was returning to carry the Olympic Flame torch through Naoetsu en route to Nagano, not far from the POW camp where he had been held. In the interview, Watanabe acknowledged beating and kicking prisoners, but was unrepentant, saying, "I treated the prisoners strictly as enemies of Japan." Zamperini attempted to meet with his chief and most brutal tormentor, but Watanabe, who had evaded prosecution as a war criminal, refused to see him.

Watanabe died on 1 April 2003.


Recounts of Watanabe's abusive behavior are told in Laura Hillenbrand's book about Zamperini titled Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010).[2] Watanabe also appears in Dr. Alfred A. Weinstein's memoir, Barbed Wire Surgeon, published in 1948.

In 2014, Japanese musician Miyavi played Watanabe in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken, the film adaptation of Hillenbrand's book.[3] David Sakurai portrays Watanabe in Harold Cronk's Unbroken: Path to Redemption, a "spiritual successor" to Jolie's film, released in 2018.


  1. ^ a b Kohn, David (24 September 1999). "Finally, The Ordeal Is Over". CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
  2. ^ Hillenbrand, Laura (2010). Unbroken. New York: Random House. p. 473. ISBN 978-1-4000-6416-8.
  3. ^ Josh Rottenberg (2014-10-31). "Japanese rock singer Miyavi makes debut in 'Unbroken'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-12-03.