An unnamed American pilot (Lee Marvin) is shot down over the sea and stranded on a remote island in the Paciﬁc Ocean in 1944 with a lone Japanese naval officer (Toshirô Mifune). The two sworn enemies battle each other in a lethal cat and mouse game but must eventually reach an accord to survive
The Japanese ofﬁcer overpowers the American, brings him back to his camp, and ties his arms in a harness. However, the American soon escapes and captures his lone enemy in turn.
Unhappy with the idea of taking a prisoner, he lets his enemy go, signalling a truce.
When the Japanese ofﬁcer begins building a small raft, his American counterpart gets past his scepticism and offers to help. After the raft is ﬁnished, the two set off for a collection of islands, eventually reaching land.
They ﬁnd the island empty but discover a bombed Japanese camp with supplies. The two soldiers get along amiably until the Japanese soldier sees images in an old Life magazine that depict his people wounded, suffering, and dead. The two men then part on unhappy terms.
The original version of the film’s ending had Mifune’s character kill two Japanese soldiers who stumble upon Marvin’s character and decapitate him. The idea was eventually scrapped, and director John Boorman shot an ending in which Marvin and Mifune drop their truce and return to fighting each other.
Executive producer Henry “Hank” G. Saperstein found Boorman’s ending anti-climactic, so devised a more decisive finale that practically ruined the picture: an explosion (borrowed from another film) destroys the building and both soldiers are apparently killed. Both versions survive.
The movie was shot on location on Koror and other Palau islands in the isolated Caroline Islands of Micronesia, 950 miles due east of the Philippines, in the spring of 1968. Cast and ﬁlm crew lived aboard a ship and went to work on a Palau beach every day in a tank landing craft.
Palau is near the equator, and the four-month-long shoot in 90-degree heat and high humidity was a trying experience for all involved.
Although it features only two characters, Hell in the Paciﬁc ran up $7.35 million in production costs due to its highly remote Paciﬁc island shooting location and many work interruptions due to bad weather and the obstreperous behaviour of Toshirô Mifune.
Captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda