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-Letters from Iwo Jima (R)

by Dr. D ~

Warner Bros. Pictures, Dec. 20, 2006, Directed by Clint Eastwood, 141 min., Cast:
Kazunari Ninomiya (Saigo), Ken Watanabe (Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi), Tsuyoshi Ihara (Baron Nishi), Ryo Kase (Shimizu), Shidou Nakamura (Lieutenant Ito), Nae (Hanako)

This is the second offering (Flags of Our Fathers, the first) about the battle which raged on Iwo Jima island during WWII.  The movie is done almost entirely in the Japanese language with English subtitles except for the American soldiers on the battlefield and a few flashbacks of visits to America.

This time the Japanese side of the war is shown from the perspective of the ordinary drafted soldier, up to the conflict which raged among the senior offices in command.  A different movie and quite effective.  As one raised in the 50’s on John Wayne war movies, it was entirely different to see the enemy up close and personal as regular folk with lives and families waiting for them back home.

Ken Watanabe does an exceptional job as General Kuribayashi.  The pathos of command is accurately shown here as this leader tries to deal with a losing situation, bad communications (sometimes on purpose), insufficient supplies, and insubordinate junior and senior officers.

Saigo (played by Kazunari Ninomiya) gives us a bleak contrast of life in the Japanese Imperial forces as a drafted and barely willing grunt.  Saigo continues to survive even as many around him take their own lives as a matter of ‘honor’ Japanese style.  The Japanese soldiers understood that they were there to give their lives for the Emperor and they were probably never going home.  Saigo keeps remembering his wife and child and keeps fighting and trying to survive for them till the very end.

A very powerful story and one to be honored.  However, I believe that it goes too far in one scene where an American soldier kills several Japanese who had already surrendered.  One could see it coming and it was a gratuitous offering in the midst of an otherwise unique production.  While such behavior undoubtedly happened during this war, barbaric acts were far more likely to be perpetrated by the Imperial forces of Japan rather than the Americans.  The sheer force of this scene in the movie is unbalanced by similar action on the other side.

A tremendous movie overall, cast in dark almost black and white scenes with only slight color.  This sets a visual tone for the mood of shear hopelessness felt by the Japanese in this battle.  It is an experience that I will remember and I highly recommend.  I expect that this film and the previous one (Flags of Our Fathers) will receive numerous awards.


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