Letters From Iwo Jima
This island is way too big. Anyone bring a canteen?

Golden Mug

Director (Clint Eastwood)

Theatrical Release Date: 12/20/2006
Director: Clint Eastwood
Cast: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara

Shifting the focus from “Flags of Our Fathers”, with “Letters from Iwo Jima” Eastwood has chosen to view the battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese who defended the island so vigorously from invading American forces.

While I’m sure there have been films that looked at the opposing side of a war, I can’t readily think of one American film made to show the viewpoint of our former enemies.

My curiosity for such a film was high from the time it was announced and while I was disappointed with “Flags of Our Fathers”, I had hope that Eastwood would pull it together with this film.

Thank you Mr. Eastwood for keeping hope alive.

He used essentially the same crew for both films, helping the battle scenes match up well. You got the sense this was the same battle, just told from opposite sides of the front line.

And while I knocked “Flags” for its focus and acting, it did have wonderful production value, which held true for “Letters”.

Adding to the quality production were good actors, most notably Watanabe. Sure, it feels like a cop out to single out the one guy whose name has been heard east of Japan but there’s a reason his talent hasn’t been confined just to Japan.

Watanabe plays the stoic hero figure so well (a la “The Last Samurai”) and it is definitely evident in this film.

As the commander of Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, he struggled to find the resources to put up a fight against overwhelming odds. He also treated his soldiers with respect and did what he could to keep their spirits up.

I do concede though that it may be a point of contention on how well he treated his soldiers, or perhaps simply done just for the sake of dramatic purposes.

Still, his character shines in the film like a bright beacon and is surely one of the better acting performances of 2006.

Just as impressive is Kazunari Ninomiya as one of the soldiers destined to die on Iwo Jima. His performance was riveting and was one of many that gave me an odd pause during the film.

Seeing this film from the Japanese perspective, it’s hard to see the battle as so black and white.

Sure, I realize that American troops have killed a lot of people during many wars throughout our brief history.

But reconciling the effects of war when you stay firmly on one side of the issue is easy. As one begins to empathize, the whole affair gets muddled and confused.

A real feeling of sorrow passes and fear sets in as you watch these brave Japanese soldiers defend the island. It’s only compounded because like so many of our own soldiers, they are only there because the country demands it.

Many of them were just bakers and farmers who were enlisted to fight. They had no say in the matter and could only make the best of a bad situation.

“Letters from Iwo Jima” gets its name from the storytelling technique, using letters between the soldiers and home to reveal their characters and backgrounds.

Eastwood used the technique deftly and it allowed to further humanize the soldiers as they prepared for the American assault.

I have heard people say that the film was too slow and maybe too long but I think that stems from wanting to see a different kind of film.

This isn’t a war film, where you follow a group of soldiers into battle and view the carnage for an hour and half.

“Letters from Iwo Jima” is a portrayal of the men behind the guns. There are battle scenes and plenty of death to go around but you shouldn’t go to this film for action.

You should be seeing the film for its portrayal of the human spirit and the drive within people that keeps them going through such horrific times.

Easily one of the best films of 2006, “Letters from Iwo Jima” gets a strong 4 out of 5 and redeems my faith in Eastwood’s remarkable track record as a director.