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Letters from Iwo Jima poster

Letters from Iwo Jima

Genre: Drama
Rated: R
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shido Nakamura
Released by:
Warner Bros.

In Short: Clint Eastwood’s masterful companion piece to his “Flags of Our Fathers” is another look at the World War II battle of Iwo Jima, but told from the Japanese point of view.

War is Hell, From Either Side
Experiencing Iwo Jima from a Different Perspective

by Jenny Peters

Despite being well past the retirement age, 76-year-old Clint Eastwood continues to be one of Hollywood’s strongest forces, a filmmaker whose deft touch and keen eye make moviegoers look at an oft-told subject with new eyes.

He’s done that masterfully with “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the film he made in tandem with last October’s fine “Flags of Our Fathers,” shooting both movies at the same time (please note, these are two completely different movies despite being made by the same director and dealing with the same subject matter, albeit told from opposing sides of the battle). While “Flags” told the story from the American side, “Letters” looks at the bloody World War II battle for the tiny Pacific island as seen from the Japanese point of view.

Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi in "Letters from Iwo Jima"
The battle rages in "Letters from Iwo Jima"

Eastwood’s film (told in Japanese with English subtitles) takes us deep into the hearts and minds of the Japanese soldiers who were ordered to keep the island at all costs. It is based on the real letters written by the commanding officer, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who realizes even before the battle begins that it is a lost cause despite his brilliant military planning. The script by Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis also took inspiration from the few surviving Japanese soldiers to tell the story of the young men who physically fought the battle, like Saigo, a lowly foot soldier who just wishes he could stop digging caves in the heat and get home to his wife and new baby. Soldiers express divergent opinions on the Japanese code of “honor above all else” and show disparate reactions when the battle actually commences. This is accomplished with first-rate acting across the board, especially by Ken Watanabe as the general.

Kazunari Ninomiya as young soldier Saido in "Letters from Iwo Jima"
Shido Nakamura in "Letters from Iwo Jima"

The cinematography is unforgettable as well, as Eastwood chose to make the film with an almost black-and-white look, removing much of the color to create a starkness that harkens back to classic war films like Stanley Kubrick’s “Paths of Glory.”

The film evokes “Paths of Glory” in another key way, by expressing the futility and insanity of war without resorting to obvious or preachy moments. Instead, Eastwood simply allows the brutal events to play out as they surely must have, with the result being one of the finest movies ever made, about war or otherwise.


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