Letters From Iwo Jima (a review)

lettersby Alexander Lloyd Curran

”For our homeland. Until the very last man. Our duty is to stop the enemy right here. Do not expect to return home alive.”

The story of the battle of Iwo Jima between the United States and Imperial Japan during World War II, as told from the perspective of the Japanese who fought it.

A film with powerful, historical significance. Told from the side of the Japanese as they prepare to protect Iwo Jima from American invasion.
Some scenes especially the suicide deaths are quite graphic, and the action in it has a gritty, tense, war-drenched realism to it.
Fantastic diverse range of Japanese actors; Ken Watanabe always impresses. Watched this numerous times and always find something new; very powerful, very emotional, very relevant and historical. Lets all take note of our past for the future.

In the second half of Letters from Iwo Jima a group of Japanese soldiers find an American who has been badly wounded and take him into their cave. Their general speaks English, so he begins talking to this soldier, whose name we later find out is Sam. Although the two men should be sworn to kill each other, they are able to have a connection in the one conversation they have. A while later, the general comes back into the room only to discover that Sam’s wounds have killed him. He searches him for a while and discovers a letter written by his mother. The letter is full of words that truly come from the heart of this kid’s mother, and by the time the general finishes reading the letter, every soldier in that cave has realized that Americans aren’t these savages; these hate-driven murderers. No, they all realize that Americans are exactly like they are, and that they don’t want to be there and want to return home safely just like their enemies. I believe the point that Clint Eastwood is making with his Iwo Jima saga is just this: these two enemies were far more alike than they had imagined and they were both fighting only in hopes of returning home safely to their family.

”I don’t know anything about the enemy. I thought all Americans were cowards. I was taught they were savages.”

As for the specific film itself. In just about every way imaginable, this absolutely masterwork is a step up from Flags of our Fathers (which is not something I say easily, as Flags is a good film). From the acting of the incredible ensemble cast, to the film’s delicate but powerful script, to the beautiful imagery of the film (the colour distortion could not be any more brilliant), to Clint Eastwood’s absolutely perfect knowledge of film and what works in a film like this.
The score written by Kyle Eastwood Clint’s son(Original Music by Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens)captures the feel of the movie better than any score written for this year. It is very quiet, poignant music, but listening to it makes you think about all the people that die as a result of war.
The acting is truly phenomenal. All of the actors do incredible, extraordinary work; although I must single out two actors in particular who really blew me away. The first is Ken Watanabe. I haven’t seen any of his native work, but I can safely say based upon his American studio work (The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha. and of course this film)that the man is a force to be reckoned with. I simply hope that he is not reduced to roles in vain of Chow Yun-Fat or Jet Li in their Western cinema roles.
He adds such an atmosphere of wisdom, intelligence and determination – quite the opposite of how the Japanese enemy is usually portrayed in WWII films. His character is entirely human and not reduced to a suicidal, angry General type, which is probably what many people would expect. The second is Kazunari Ninomiya, who plays Saigo. What a heartbreaking performance this actor provides. He is small, scrawny, not built for war. He has trouble fitting in. His expression is that of constant exhaustion. But his determination to live and to honour his general over himself is touching and fascinating to watch. His delivery and performance in general is absolutely stunning.

”We can die here, or we can continue fighting. Which would better serve the emperor?”

In terms of themes, the most intricate and important aspect of the film is its examination of the psyche of the warfare itself. In Flags of our Fathers; like in his earlier films such as Unforgiven, Eastwood portrays an examination and dissection of heroism and what it meant both for those who are labeled heroes and those who did the labeling.
With Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood studies the exact opposite of the spectrum; Glory. It’s almost as if Eastwood is more fascinated with the Japanese comprehension of heroism than the American one. The Japanese soldiers in the film don’t have such a thing as heroism to begin with. What they do have is glory and honour. They accept their clear and present defeat with humbleness and modesty, perhaps too much so as they would rather take their own lives than fall into the hands of the enemy. If Flags of our Fathers was a criticism of wartime splendor and heroism, Letters from Iwo Jima is a modest glorification of these elements.

In all, with Letters from Iwo Jima, Eastwood creates a new kind of war film that stands quite apart from its counterparts both because it portrays the side of the enemy but also and especially because it takes extra special care in emphasizing the human aspect of the soldiers it depicts, humanizing and characterizing them to endless extent. As a psychological study of warfare and as a history lesson; Eastwood has crafted a truly masterful and meaningful piece that’s riveting and fascinating as it is intricate and complex. One of the best films of the year.
To sum it all up; Letters from Iwo Jima is one of the greatest war films ever made, and is easily does the best job of depicting war as something that harms all involved that I have ever seen. Clint Eastwood has, with this achievement, engraved his name as one of the greatest American directors in film history.

”A day will come when they will weep and pray for your souls.”



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