Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima tells the untold story of the Japanese soldiers who defended their homeland against invading American forces during World War II... more ». With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima itself, the unprecedented tactics of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai) and his men transform what was predicted to be a swift defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat. Their sacrifices, struggles, courage and compassion live on in the taut, gripping film Rolling Stone calls "unique and unforgettable." It is the powerful companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers.« less
I was really blown away by this movie. Its a story that really you would never realize hearing capturing a time from the Japanese perspective. I'd highly recommend.
3 of 3 member(s) found this review helpful.
Stories From The Other Side--Strong Characterizations Humani
K. Harris | Las Vegas, NV | 01/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Being a big Clint Eastwood fan, I attended "Flags of our Fathers" earlier this year expecting a monumental experience. Nothing could have surprised me more, however, with how disconnected I felt from that picture. It was a fascinating story and a nice tribute, but its awkward narrative framing and (more importantly) lack of genuine character development disappointed me. All I felt left with was a heavy-handed message with no real dramatic weight. I still looked forward to "Letters From Iwo Jima," however, intrigued by Eastwood's ambitions of portraying a Japanese perspective centered on the same event. Such a bold move makes me respect Eastwood even more. The film was rushed into release for the 2006 awards season when "Flags" failed to become a critical front-runner, and that decision seems to have paid off for the studio. Recognized by several major critic's groups, "Letters" also stands as a Best Picture candidate at the Academy awards.
Ironically, the aspect that left me unmoved with "Flags" is the strongest asset of "Letters"--and that is character development. Spending time with a handful of major characters, the film does a nice job fleshing them out in a real three-dimensional way. The film intimately examines their situation on Iwo Jima, the hopelessness, the strategizing. The interactions between the soldiers is well developed and genuine, and the incorporation of writing letters as a narrative device provides even more insight. We get to "hear" their thoughts and to explore their backstory. The moments that we step away from Iwo Jima in flashbacks are well integrated and provide a greater emotional context for their current situation.
As for plot, the film explores the American invasion of Iwo Jima. Near the end of the war, the Japanese soldiers left to maintain this stronghold have become increasingly isolated and unsupported from the mainland. With a new, somewhat controversial, General in command--it quickly becomes clear that this is a mission of holding on until death. American victory seems assured--so with honor, dignity and sacrifice, all the remaining soldiers are being asked to die in the name of duty. Building a complex system of bunkers within the mountain, they are (in essence) constructing their own graves. When the invasion actually begins, the battle scenes are harrowing and believable--and the awesome underground cavern system is a claustrophobic and memorable set piece.
One of the main popular criticisms of "Letters" comes from a perceived revisionist approach. By viewing the film's characters as protagonists with humanity, is it glossing over the atrocities committed in a wartime situation? And obviously, a legitimate movie could have been made to depict this too--but this isn't that movie. This is a film that examines a few individuals struggling with a moral code which is at odds with a desire to live. Not every Japanese soldier was a monster, nor was every German or Italian--but neither is every American soldier a saint. What the film has endeavored to impart is that, most importantly, we're all human. The average Japanese soldier had a lot in common with the average American soldier. The film is a tad heavy-handed in those connections, on occasion, but I personally had no problem seeing the characters in "Letters" as sympathetic and real.
The performances in "Letters" are uniformly excellent. The script is tight and logical, the color palette refreshingly bleak, and the staging impressive. There is a certain dignity and honor in the film--a certain respectful sense of dread as we are led to the inevitable conclusion. A truly memorable and compassionate piece, I recommend "Letters" without reservation. KGHarris, 01/07."
An anti-bushido movie, and an honest tribute to the Japanese
DarthRad | CA United States | 01/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
This is a great movie, and a truly original one, although not for the reasons that have been previously offered up by movie critics and fans.
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. For the few critics of this movie who say that the Japanese soldiers got what they deserved, that the Japanese started WWII, and that this movie only brings in undeserved sympathy for those soldiers, I say, as an American and a reader of military history, perhaps, but look deeper into what this movie is REALLY saying.
Although American film critics have almost universally hailed this movie as an anti-war movie, this movie is in reality only an anti-bushido movie. The movie has been extremely popular in Japan, and I cannot but help think that its underlying messages serve only to work against the cause of the resurgent and revisionist right-wing nationalist elements in Japan today. As the samurai coda of bushido itself is also in resurgence in Japan today, this movie comes none too soon as an antidote.
The movie has two centers - one is on the fictional and very hapless ex-baker Saigo, who has been drafted into the Japanese Army as a common foot soldier; the other is the real-life portrayal of General Kuribayashi, the Japanese commander at Iwo Jima.
The movie makes clear how the rigid military discipline and samurai coda of bushido worked against the Japanese throughout the fight for Iwo Jima. For although this rigid discipline helped to prevent mass desertions and surrenders, thus enforcing the will of the military elite for these soldiers to fight to the death, it also resulted in stupidly ceremonial suicides when the soldiers were clearly defeated.
The samurai coda of bushido also led to an unwillingness to adapt and learn from previous mistakes. Kuribayashi, who had studied in America, and had studied previous Japanese island defeats against the Americans, actually had to fight his own fellow commanders to implement his defensive tactic of building caves and fortresses inland. Brief mention is made in this movie of how he was urged to not give up the beach entirely - and so the Japanese did put in some pillboxes overlooking the beach landing sites. The only result was that three months of hard work building the beach defenses would all be blown away in the first few hours of the preliminary American naval bombardment.
Above all else, the portrayal of Saigo, and of the failed Kempetai (Japanese secret police) soldier Shimizu show how brutal the Japanese military system was at the time to its own people. Both suffer harshly from the military system - Saigo's bakery is regularly looted by the Kempetai and then finally ruined by the war, and his pregnant wife is left in tears when he is drafted into the war ("none of the men ever return", she cries). Saigo's clumsy efforts at soldiering and general cynicism about the course of the war lead to beatings and near-death episodes at the hands of his officers. In a flashback during the movie, Shimizu's failure to brutalize a Japanese family by killing their pet dog at his commander's order is met with a beating from his superior (Japanese commanders were authorized to physically beat their soldiers and underlings) and ejection from the Kempetai.
Most moving of all, the mass suicide with grenades, after Mount Suribachi had been taken by the Americans, is portrayed as a direct disobeyal of an order from General Kuribayashi to retreat, regroup, and fight again. The group suicide is demanded by one of the most fanatically bushido-driven of the officers. What a stupid man and stupid concept! To kill yourself when you can still fight.
The one false note in the whole movie was the scene where the character of Lieutenant Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi talks to a captured American soldier. That this ever happened is highly dubious (I mean, this American soldier was carrying a flamethrower when he was shot - such soldiers were universally targeted for instant death whenever possible). It seems to only have been thrown in for two reasons - to balance out an earlier scene where a captured American soldier was beaten and bayoneted to death, and as an opportunity for the Nishi character to engage in some exposition about himself. OK, Baron Nishi was a very colorful historical character, winner of the Gold Medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics in Equestrian show jumping and friend to many Hollywood stars. But this whole scene just rang false, and people in the theater audience snickered when the Nishi character started speaking Engrish.
All in all, this is a truly original work, exploring themes of the Japanese side of WWII that have never been explored before, either by Americans or the Japanese themselves.
Japanese works regarding WWII have invariably portrayed the Japanese characters, whether civilian ("Grave of the Fireflies") or military (the recent movie "Otoko-tachi no Yamato" and the book "Requiem for Battleship Yamato", both about the last suicidal mission of the battleship) as tragic but heroic victims of overwhelming American might, and about the biggest Deep Thought that one ever gets out of these Japanese works has been some sort of a vague admission that "all war is bad"; there is never any exploration of the possibility that something in Japanese society itself at that time might have been terribly, stupidly evil.
Yes, 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. Bushido was the underlying principle that led to all of that. And "Letters from Iwo Jima" is the first movie ever to bring out these concepts, while showing at the same time its greatest respect for the Japanese soldiers forced to endure under the harsh rule of that military elite. "
It Comes in Three's
R. DelParto | Virginia Beach, VA USA | 03/13/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Letters From Iwo Jima depicts the Japanese side of the battle on Mount Suribachi. The film is an attempt to portray the humanistic qualities of Japanese soldier, and not so much focus on the ravage combat scenes that occurred on the island but rather the activities inside the crevasses of the caves that the soldiers occupied at an attempt to maintain Japanese possession of Mount Suribachi. There are similar battle scenes that were shown during Flags of Our Fathers, but the emphasis is the soldiers.
Eastwood focuses on two of the characters, General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) and a baker and young soldier, Saigo (Kaizunari Ninomayi), and parallels their lives and to the war experience. Through short conversations and long silences and interactions between Japanese soldiers and American soldiers, Eastwood is effective in conveying the Japanese perspective. Certain scenes may shock and disturb viewers who are not familiar with the events that coincided with what occurred during the Pacific War - a war heavily fought with psychological warfare and propaganda in mind. For example, as Japanese soldiers talk about American soldiers they too describe them as savage and inhumane. Where have we heard that before? They were depicted in propaganda cartoons, which spread racist and jingoist fervor within the minds of those who believed it. But what is interesting about this film as well as Flags of Our Fathers is that both raises questions about morality, sacrifice, and brutality among enemy combatants as well as concerns of human rights during times of war.
Bottom line, Letters From Iwo Jima is revisionist history, which revises one's perception of Japanese and American soldiers during World War II. Eastwood emphasizes the humanistic qualities of each soldier portrayed in the movie including the commanding officer of the Japanese army, which show that they too were human; they too left family behind and hastily wrote letters home to loved ones. There are subtle scenes of humor in the film, but with a tinge of irony, such as when a few soldiers suffer extreme cases of dysentery, but are able to laugh about it. And another is with Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), a debonair and "playboy-like" officer, who oddly enough lands on the island with his prized horse. Scenes involving Nishi is a short respite from the battle front, and this is displayed as he comforts a wounded American soldier from Oklahoma, Sam, that he takes in as a prisoner of war and nurses the soldier's wounds despite the dismay from Japanese soldiers. In the little time that he spends with Sam, he shares with him a little piece of information about his own life when he was an Olympic athlete during the 1932 Olympics in California, possibly an equestrian, who happened to know two Hollywood actors of the day, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks. What is ironic about this scene is a preceding scene in which another American soldier was dragged into the Japanese army's cave, but suffered a much greater consequence.
Letter From Iwo Jima is an intense film filled with unanswered inquiries, which opens the door for discussion. Undeniably, the film raises the controversial issue of revisionist history within the context of American and Japanese history, and uncovers stereotypes and misconceptions. This film is recommended viewing for anyone interested in having a better understanding of the Pacific War and history in general. "
Too bad the Japanese General was so competent
Gunner | Bethlehem,Georgia | 02/18/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Letters From Iwo Jima DVD
Letters From Iwo is a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers (Two-Disc Special Edition) [HD DVD], both directed by Clint Eastwood, both about the circumstances surrounding the battle for Iwo Jima. This movie is told from the Japanese point of view.
If the movie is true, unfortunately the Japanese general was competent, when he first arrived, he got off his plane and walked the terrain, he did not just go into the operations center and look at maps.
He then completely scrapped the defensive plan. Moved the revetments so that the machine guns had enfilading fire. Moved the artillery back to the military crest on the mountain. Then dug in his troops into the mountains, rendering the U.S. Naval bombardment effectively impotent.
If we'd had today's liberal media back then, we would have quit after the first one thousand soldiers and marines were killed.
I for one am glad we didn't have instant communication in 1944.
Highly recommended for military buffs and fans of World war II action movies.
Gunner February, 2008 "
Letters From Iwo Jima
P.K. Ryan | Albany, NY USA | 06/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This film was superbly done and I agree that it was much better than 'Flags of Our Fathers.' It flowed much better and you actually get to know some of the characters. It's definitely a just tribute to those Japanese soldiers who defended that doomed island and did their duty just like our boys did theirs. Sure there's the significant cultural differences, and you can argue that they started the war, but once those bullets start flying, we all feel the same fear and bleed the same blood. Foot soldiers don't start wars, and only the hardest of hearts could watch this and not feel sympathy for these young men. Another reviewer called this an "anti-bushido" movie and I think there is some truth to that. One of the recurring themes seems to be the contrast between the common soldier who just wants to survive, and the hardcore bushido officers who believe in nothing less than death before dishonor. Personally, there's a part of me that sympathizes with the whole honor-driven samurai tradition, but I can see how many regard it as primitive and senseless. The cave scene with the grenades comes to mind. I also have to say that the score is one of the most touching I've heard in awhile also. The main theme is one of those pieces that tears at your heart. All in all, this will go down as one of Clint Eastwood's finest achievements."