Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima and Flags of our fathers constitute the only example I know of two movies relating the same event from different points of view. It is more significant since both have the same director, Clint Eastwood; both are very good on their own; and neither one succumbs to facile rhetoric or caricature. These two movies tell the story of the Allied assault on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during the Pacific war; Letters is the story from the Japanese point of view. We see a group of scared men who have been drawn into a war they do not fully understand. We also see how modern military tactics and old traditions of honor do not always merge seamlessly. And we see men who know are being left to die and decide to fight anyway, knowing they cannot win, simply hoping to keep the invaders as long as they can from conquering the island and thus gaining an important assault point on mainland Japan.

Filmed entirely in Japanese, the movie tries to capture accurately Japanese traditions and their mindset. Shot in mute tones, almost black and white emphasizing the arid terrain, there are almost no bright colors except for explosions and blood, the result being quite effective. The acting is impeccable, with Ken Watanabe as Lt. General Kuribayashi, the man in charge of the defense of the island, and whose real letters to his family form the basis of the film. These two movies are a good statement of what war really is about for most of its participants, independently of politics or economics. Highly recommended.

Steven Spielberg is one of the producers of both films. I remember there was some talk after the excellent series Band of Brothers aired to do a similar project based on the Pacific war. I suppose this is the end result of that idea, and one of the best movies of last year.

Update: The project mentioned at the end is The Pacific, also recommended.

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