Published on June 13th, 2007 | by Chris0
Letters From Iwo Jima (2007)
Hm. Its taken me a while to write this. I've really had to think about what I was going to put here after seeing Clint Eastwood's "sequel" to Flags of Our Fathers (WMB review here...) The story of "Letters From Iwo Jima" is the Japanese perspective of the invasion of Iwo Jima, which was portrayed from the American viewpoint in "Flags."
But I just flat out didn't like it. The fact that the entire movie is in Japanese didn't bother me. I expected that and really didn't mind, although reading subtitles can get a bit tiresome.
The action? Well, what there is of it is pretty good, and if you've seen "Flags" you will recognize a lot of scenes and situations that intertwine with that movie. In fact you might get confused at some scenes if you've not seen "Flags," wondering what exactly is going on here. I was even surprised that they held themselves back during the "grenades" sequence, I really expected that to be a lot bloodier than it was.
One problem I had was a nagging feeling throughout the whole thing that I was supposed to be sympathizing with the Japanese soldiers here, and in particular the main character, the young and inept Saigo. Time after time he and his comrades would be put into situations which seemed like they were created to instill some sort of sympathetic feelings in the viewer. I just didn't get it.
The portrayal of some of the Japanese officers bothered me also, especially the General, Kuribayashi and his underling, the Olympic horse-rider infantry commander. I wasn't buying the attempt to put them on the same "plane" if you will as their American counterparts.
The way the "flashbacks" and letter writing happened just seemed a bit convoluted to me. A few times it just seemed to come out of nowhere for no particular reason, and left you wondering what the point of that scene was. The depiction of the Japanese "virtues" of "honor" and "duty" I think was portrayed mostly accurately, especially in the scene where Saigo is called up to duty. Others, like where the young Kempeitai refuses to shoot some kids' dog just seemed forced.
The biggest gripe on my part, though, comes toward the end of the film, during two scenes. One being when an American soldier named Sam is shot and then carried into the caves, where they treat his wounds and interrogate him in a decent, western, civilzed manner and allow him to die peacefully. Then read his letter from his mother and they all have some sort of personal revelation on what it means to "do the right thing." Really. I wasn't buying that. At all. Especially contrasted with the scene (also from "Flags") where another Marine is carried into the caves and subsequently butchered.
Then there's the portrayal of the American forces from the Japanese perspective, especially when two prisoners are shot in cold blood by two impatient Marines.
Did stuff like that happen? I have no doubt whatsoever that it did. Does that make it "right?" No. Were the majority of the Japanese soldiers stationed on Iwo just your average "Joes" like the encroaching Marines? Called upon to do their duty for God (or Emperor) and country? Yes, also undoubtedly. I don't think anyone will dispute that. Does it suck for guys on both sides of the line? Hell yes. Does it suck equally for the people back home? Clearly.
I just had this nagging feeling that I was supposed to be "feeling sorry" for Saigo, Kuribayashi, and the rest of them, and well, I wasn't. Maybe its just my skewed American perspective. I'm sure the few Japanese who survived, and the families of those who didn't have a different perspective....
All that said, was it a good movie? Sure. I think Clint acheived what he set out to do, which is to paint a picture from "the other side" that shows what it might have been like. "Over the top" in places? Absolutely, in my opinion. I also think part of his plan was to show that "the other side" thinks the same of us as we do of them. A valid point, but way overplayed here.
Letters From Iwo Jima is uncomfortable and upsetting on many levels, especially from an American POV with 60+ years of history to deal with. Maybe that was the point. I really don't know. Other than the stand-by "war movie" messages that war is hell no matter what side you're on, and that in the end we're all just human, I really fail to see the point in the rest.
I would watch this once just to say you've seen it, and try to understand what the message is. But I wouldn't elevate this to "epic" or "classic" status.
Letters from Iwo Jima (Two-Disc Special Edition)
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Critically hailed as an instant classic, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is a masterwork of uncommon humanity and a harrowing, unforgettable indictment of the horrors of war. In an unprecedented demonstration of worldly citizenship, Eastwood (from a spare, tightly focused screenplay by first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita) has crafted a truly Japanese film, with Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) and filmed in a contemplative Japanese style, serving as both complement and counterpoint to Eastwood's previously released companion film Flags of Our Fathers...
DVD InformationBinding: DVD
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audience Rating: R (Restricted)
Brand: Warner Manufacturing
Original Release Date:
- Ken Watanabe
- Kazunari Ninomiya
- Shido Nakamura
- Tsuyoshi Ihara
- Ryo Kase
- Factory sealed DVD
Summary: Letters From Iwo Jima is uncomfortable and upsetting on many levels, especially from an American POV with 60+ years of history to deal with. Maybe that was the point. I really don't know.