Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
August 10th, 2007 by Maxim · No Comments · 3,601 Views
Clint Eastwood directed this Oscar-winning war movie, which in many respects is a sequel to “The Flags Of Our Fathers”, or to be more precise, the look at the same events from the other side of the battlefield. It was released in January of 2007 – a time when vast majority of Oscar-nomination hopefuls are being released. It turns tables (well, cameras) around and explores the life of Japanese soldiers, who were stuck in caves, outnumbered and abandoned on a waterless island, trying to protect “Japan’s sacred homeland” when American troops invaded this strategically important island in 1945, at the end of World War II.
I wasn’t ecstatic about “Flags of Our Fathers”, so I expected this movie to be pretty much a continuity, in line with the prequel. “Flags” was technically a well executed war movie, but I thought actors did not have enough breathing room and were doing what director told them to do. I also could not quite relate to the main characters. Which is exactly why I did not go to see the “Letters” in the theatre and decided to wait for the DVD release. Actually, when I wrote article about Blu-ray DVD playback on Sony PlayStation 3 earlier this year, it was the BD version of the “Letters from Iwo Jima” that I wanted to play on it as a test.
The movie begins very similarly to “The Brotherhood of War”, which I reviewed earlier: with a modern-days excavation at the site of the battle. Archaeologists find letters in the dig on the island. Then the movie travels to 1945, where Japanese soldiers dig in, train, collect rain water and prepare for invasion. During the breaks for rest they have a chance to talk, which is how the characters begin to develop. Meanwhile, most of air support and tanks are being pulled out to other lines of defence.
It goes to show that wars are not fought by countries, but by simple soldiers, with families and friends. Watch the conflict between love for one’s family, patriotic feelings and duty, fear and common sense. Watch how soldiers strap anti-tank mines on themselves in the last act of desperation. By the way, that scene when an officer straps a mine to himself and plays dead waiting for tanks to come and they never do, reminded me of another movie: “Paradise Now”. In the latter there was a scene where a Palestinian suicide bomber reads a statement for the camera, but then it turns out that the lens cap on the camera is on: the few seconds when he realizes and his last words to his mother were not heard are the best past of the whole movie. There’s another scene like that at the end – you’ll see it. Fingers crossed though, I hope the suicide theme will not become a distinct movie genre.
When the battle is almost over, at the end, there’s a moment of quiet – a time for last goodbyes and for last letters. I hope this is not a spoiler because everyone knows how it all ends. Another great moment in the movie is when the general is listening to the song broadcast over the radio and performed by children’s chorus. Those little children have no idea about what’s at stake here – and that’s what must have been going through the general’s head – you can see it on his face.
This movie features real Japanese actors, hence a lot of English subtitles. Some of them we were already familiar with: Ken Watanabe was already on American market in movies such as “Memoirs of Geisha” and “The Last Samurai”. Hiroshi Watanabe (related?), Eijiro Asaki, Takashi Yamaguchi and Yuki Matsuzaki (”The Black Ninja”), also were in “The Last Samurai”. The film was shot mostly on location, on Iwo Jima island, as well as in Southern California.
Compared to “The Flags of Our Fathers”, the “Letters from Iwo Jima” is just as good if not better technically, but in terms of acting and emotions the movie is evoking, the “Letters” is the best of the two. In fact, I think it’s one of the best war movies I’ve seen, even though I feel like I have became spoiled and used to now-standard special effects and people being blown up. A 5-star movie. I removed half a star because in some sequences the sets and light felt too artificial. You know the feeling you get when you see a microphone get in the frame when you watch a movie? Well, it wasn’t that bad, but I felt the same way when I could deduce the presence of the camera-man and people dropping dirt on the actors from above the set to create the illusion of being in a cave during aerial bombing.
Speaking of the war movies released in the past 5-7 years, I wonder if this movie was the same to the people of Japan as “Das Boot” was to the Germans.
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