I’m not a big Eastwood fan. I hate westerns and aside from Mystic River, there isn’t much from him that I enjoy. However, I love Ken Watanabe so I forced myself to watch this one. Letters from Iwo Jima explores the American invasion of Iwo Jima. Near the end of the war, the Japanese soldiers left to maintain this stronghold which have become increasingly unsupported from the mainland. With a new General in command it quickly becomes clear that this is a mission of holding on until death. American victory seems secure so with honor, dignity and sacrifice, all the remaining soldiers are being asked to die in the name of duty. First off, although this movie does portray the Japanese side of the story of the Battle of Iwo Jima, it does not glorify their role in this movie, nor does it ignore the lessons of history served up by this battle. The movie makes clear how the rigid military discipline and samurai coda of bushido worked against the Japanese throughout the fight for Iwo Jima.
The samurai coda of bushido also led to an unwillingness to adapt and learn from previous mistakes. It was the brutal military rulers of Japan who stupidly threw the Japanese people into a war that they could not hope to win, and then stupidly demanded mass suicide when their decisions failed. Letters from Iwo Jima gave a realistic take that Japanese aren’t always the best at war. I actually felt frustrated by some of the Generals in charge. Eastwood emphasizes the humanistic qualities of each soldier and successfully revised my perception of Japanese and American soldiers during World War II. Only a truely powerful film would have the power to leave that effect on me.
It is sad, because we know ahead of time what the result will be for the Japanese that we grow to like over the course of the tale, but within it are moments of bravery, heroism and friendship. They were torn between responsibilities to their Emperor & their country versus their longing to return home safely to their families. This monochrome movie concludes rightfully with sunrise in glowing orange suggesting that the worst is over and a better promise and hope for future generations. Powerful film indeed, but when making a period piece there is more than just a good story involved to make, at least this reviewer, walk away happy. The uniforming of the Japanese was perfect. For years, I have watched movies only to be disappointed at seeing a non-Japanese ammo pouches, incorrect movie prop helmets, bad insignia, shirts, tunics, holster, belts, and packs that don’t resemble Japanese military issue combat gear.
In conclusion, Letters from Iwo Jima is a film guaranteed to provide an evening’s entertainment and one to seriously consider adding to your movie collection as it is one of those films that gets you and keeps you thinking long after it’s over. The reason I can’t give it the highest score possible is the pacing was off in some spots and it is not a film designed to appeal to the masses. It is, rather, a stripped-down, thoughtful and artful consideration of the horrors of war as seen through the eyes of the enemy. Unlike Flags of our Fathers which tried to do too many things, Iwo Jima focuses entirely on the days leading up to the battle all the way until its conclusion. Great film and one I can recommend to you guys guilt-free.