Letters from Iwo Jima (Warner Bros. Pictures, R)

film_iwo_smEastwood's methods are brutal, personal, and sensitive to the lowest of ranks, the simple bodies thrown at the enemy by the powers behind the war. The battle scenes are graphic, yet do not stray from the film's purpose for violence's sake, as behind-the-scenes struggles are constantly at the forefront of the director's mind.

 

 

 

 

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Letters From Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood's accompanying piece to 2006's Flags of Our Fathers, reflects similar thematic elements of the first film (although neither film really needs to be seen before the other). Both focus on the glossed-over propaganda, blind nationalism, and mixed messages of what is honorable during World War II, specifically in reaction to battles that took place in early 1945 on the island of Iwo Jima, battles that pitted an excess of 100,000 Americans (many of them Marines) against less than 25,000 Japanese infantrymen. In Letters From Iwo Jima, we now get to see the Japanese perspective, one which reveals the brutal, meticulous fighters of the former film to be riddled with internal opposition, fear, and a lack of preparation. What is accepted as a death trap of a mission is approached with conflicts of pride and a sense of duty, a supposed honor in the face of futility and survival.

The film begins with a surreal look at the past in the recent present: The archaic tools of war, which in the dramatics of the films appear so deadly, are now meager hunks of metal; Archaeologists marvel at the laborious tunnels extended throughout Mount Suribachi, which served as the base for Japan's attacks against the beachside approach of the Americans. Suddenly, though, we are jolted back to 1945, and the soldiers are digging these tunnels, breaking rock on the volcanic island in a tiring, fruitless effort. A pitiful, boyish soldier emerges, and in a repeated motif of voiceovers addresses his wife at home, prophesizing that "this is the hole that we will fight and die in." The soldier, Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), is a former baker, and essentially worthless at war. Yet, in flashbacks, his neighbors praise his fortune in being selected to fight for his country, while Saigo is reluctant, more concerned with his wife and the baby she is carrying. It soon becomes clear that the imperialist pride to which he must acquiesce is largely unmerited, as the soldiers' cause receives little physical support, outside of a "comforting" song played over the radio in a time when food and ammunition is all but exhausted. New General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe as a forceful, yet American-influenced commander) says that the leaders at home are "deceiving not just the people, but us as well." Thus, echoes of American propaganda (undoubtedly apropos considering the current conflict in Iraq) ring throughout Letters, and the soldiers carry on fighting knowing they will die, but not necessarily knowing for what cause. What's more, is that Kuribayashi's attempt at saving the remaining, doomed soldiers, is met with insubordination by lower-ranking officers, men who choose the "honor" of death over the right to fight on, or even the possibility of dying in the throws of battle.

Eastwood's methods are brutal, personal, and sensitive to the lowest of ranks, the simple bodies thrown at the enemy by the powers behind the war. The battle scenes are graphic, yet do not stray from the film's purpose for violence's sake, as behind-the-scenes struggles are constantly at the forefront of the director's mind. Saigo and Kuribayashi serve as dueling protagonists, as both are men who understand the futility of the event. Ninomiya and Watanabe's performances are very strong and drive the subjective emotion of the film. Additionally impressive is the charming role of Olympian Baron Nishi (played by the very likeable Tsuyoshi Ihara), who is brought in to inspire the troops. As mirrored films, Letters From Iwo Jima and Flags of Our Fathers show opposing perspectives to the stories of those in the trenches, yet reach similar conclusions about the myths surrounding war. There are no real good and bad guys on the ground; just liars, fools, and soldiers fighting for survival, fighting for a will that's not always their own and not always known. | Dave Jasmon

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