“Letters from Iwo Jima” directed by Clint Eastwood shows the Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese prospective. Based on the books by Iris Yamashita, Paul Haggis, Tadamichi Kuribayashi and Tsuyoko Yoshido, “Letters from Iwo Jima” gives a human face to the faceless men on the other side of America’s proudest war.
“Letters from Iwo Jima” takes a few soldiers and tells their personal story. Saigo, Kazunari Ninomiya’s character, is a hesitant solider taken in the draft from his wife and unborn child. Shimizu, played by Ryo Kase, sense of duty is stronger than Siago but his courage isn’t much stronger. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi is Ken Watanbe’s character. The general wants to be home with his family but knows he will probably never see them again. Tsuyoshi Ihara is Baron Nishi, Olympic Gold Medalists Equestrian Jumper. Nishi is an arrogant jerk who proudly wears his uniform.
A good portion of the movie confronts the despair of the men stationed on Iwo Jima because they were all too aware of the probable futility of their mission. All the acting in “Letters from Iwo Jima” is engrossing. The quiet terror and stoic fear was palpable. They made no attempts to cry beautifully so the scenes where they cried felt natural. The actors avoided getting emotionally epileptic and refuse to seize sadness or fear all over us. Instead they discuss naturally their upcoming demise and show muted terror on their faces.
During the initial invasion the American soldiers are essentially faceless. I don’t know if this was intentional or not because it was computer generated but intention is irrelevant. It was a good decision because if we could see their faces, Americans or Europeans would probably relate more with the Americans and no longer feel strongly for the Japanese soldiers.
Iris Yamashita, the writer of “Letters from Iwo Jima” does a flawless job of making each of the characters real human beings. She wrote a back story for each of the characters. In war or even in history we try to dehumanize the people we are fighting or fought against. It’s disturbing and enlightening to think of the people we are killing or killed as people. It’s hard to be proud of what you’ve done as a country when you can see the people you killed as just like you. I’ve never seen a movie that does such a great job of weaving the humanity into stories of the other sides’ soldiers. Yamashita creates characters, emotions and problems with a subtlety that creeps into your consciousness. It’s rare to find a movie that can add to your emotional complexities. “Letters from Iwo Jima” offers us the opportunity to see the true consequences of our actions, right or wrong.
I also was interested to learn about the culture of the Japanese army. Their beliefs are similar in many ways, their differences are just as evident in this movie. A philosophy about war and honor I think most Americans don’t share; their behavior feels bizarre and irrational to me but to the other soldiers in the movie thought nothing of it.
“Letters from Iwo Jima” is shot in a grainy Japanese film style that adds to the authentic feel of the movie. It’s almost black and white but there are subtle hints of color nearly washed out. It gives a heavy weight to the mood, well earned by the circumstances. There is no especially wonderful use of framing or angles but I didn’t miss them. The style of shooting makes up for any uninspired angles chosen by Cinematographer Tom Stern.
“Letters from Iwo Jima” gives new insight into the war of the “Greatest Generation.” This film will help redefine how you see World War Two as well as the Japanese people of the time. This grey and grainy film will help you see the grey in a war so many of us have seen as black and white.