Letters from Iwo Jima
Clint Eastwood follows up his admirable but uneven World War II movie Flags of Our Fathers with a second, more accomplished, film looking at the battle for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. This time the focus is on the Japanese as opposed to the American military experience. Like the first film, Letters from Iwo Jima is less an action movie (though there’s plenty of bloody slaughter in it) and more an examination of the calibre of men in combat and the political forces at work behind the front lines.
Where Flags addressed America’s war drive in the aftermath of the pivotal battle for the Pacific atoll, Letters focuses on Japan’s (with hindsight) foolhardy sacrifice of its garrison on Iwo Jima, which was seen as the Eastern empire’s last line of defence in the war in 1945. Much of the film details the build up to the battle that raged for 40 days and resulted in 7000 American deaths and 20,000 Japanese casualties.
Faced with a vastly more technologically advanced war machine, the Japanese, commanded by the resourceful and honourable Lt General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by the excellent Ken Watanabe), literally dug themselves into Iwo Jima’s black rock. There they withstood a level of shelling that had the Americans wondering if they were about to enter into close quarters combat with supernaturally powerful opponents.
Working from a script by Japanese-American Iris Yamashita and with a commendable level of cooperation from the Japanese government, Eastwood imbues the film with a deeply affecting level of pathos. The characters, from humble baker and family man-turned-foot-solider Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) to idealistic former military policeman Shimizu (Ryo Kase), are vividly rendered in a manner rarely seen in American produced war films. And the striking humanity of both films (especially Letters) gives Eastwood’s undertaking a heightened importance in our troubled times.