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Review: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Directed by: Clint Eastwood

Premise: The story of the Japanese soldiers making their last stand on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. The film is a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers

What Works: Letters from Iwo Jima is extremely impressive war film. Although the film is considered a companion to Flags of Our Fathers, this is far superior picture. Where the former film suffered from a narrative that erratically jerked the audience from place to place, Letters from Iwo Jima benefits from a straightforward focus. The film has the distinction of portraying the Japanese with basic human respect and with reverence for the culture rather than indulging the screaming savage or the benevolent samurai master stereotypes that plague characterizations of the Japanese in other films. In particular, Ken Watanabe as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the leader of the Japanese forces on the island, and Kazunari Ninomiya as Saigo, a baker who has been drafted into the military, give very strong performances that give light to the Japanese perspective on the battle. Using fleshed out characters with their own pasts, hopes, and fears, the Japanese soldiers of Letters from Iwo Jima go through the trauma of facing death and the film addresses this not by delving into moral equivocation between democracy and imperialism but by studying how the characters face their impending ends. The dignity with which the characters are presented is a far more humanizing, interesting, and heartbreaking approach than other films in the war genre. 

What Doesn’t: A few of the flashback sequences seem a bit out of place at the time that they occur, namely the sequence in which General Kuribayashi recalls his visit to the United States. The film shares a similar style of cinematography with Flags of Our Fathers, but aside from covering the same battle there is very little connecting the two in terms of plot or characters, missing some possible connections.

Bottom Line: Letters from Iwo Jima is an exceptional war film. Where Flags of Our Fathers was bogged down in elements seen in other places such as Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, this film avoids overdone sentimentality but is still able to give an intelligent and touching portrait of soldiers in warfare. 

Episode: #132 (March 11, 2007)