Merry Christmas! To celebrate the day of the most-famous-of-Jews birth, I went with BigSheb to go see a film that had nothing to do with religion: Letters from Iwo Jima. This sister film to Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers shows the battle for Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese men who were stationed there. We learn a bit about them, their thoughts, and their ultimate failure as they try to defend the island from the invading American forces.
Told through narration of letters written by the men on the island, the film starts out with the arrival of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) to Iwo Jima, where he finds the men being treated poorly, and digging trenches on the beach. Realizing the strategy is flawed, he instead orders them to dig tunnels into Mt. Suribachi. We get to know him, as well as Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a baker who was drafted into the army and sent away from his wife and unborn child. Through intermittent flashbacks, we learn of Kuribayashi’s American education, Saigo’s family life, and more about the men on the island. The resulting communication breakdown when the Americans attack result in a significant number of men killing themselves (with grenades) because it would preserve their honor and allow them to die with dignity.
While I don’t think it was as good as everyone seems to be saying it is, it’s a very well done film, and I strongly recommend it. Between the two films (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima), Clint Eastwood has done some amazing work, showing us two sides of the same story. Ultimately, the message is, “war is hell” – no surprise, really. But Eastwood puts a human face on the generally faceless Japanese enemy (Letters from Iwo JimaFlags of Our Fathers), and for that he should be commended. (Another Oscar, anyone?)