2006 / Best Picture

Film #460: Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Staying in Japan now but moving back in time to the Second World War and a film that I’ve never seen before in Letters from Iwo Jima. This Best Picture nominee also reunites us with Clint Eastwood although unusually for the director this is a film that has very few lines of dialogue that are in the English language.

That’s because Letters from Iwo Jima is in fact a companion piece to Eastwood’s Flags of our Fathers; a film which tells the story of the battle of Iwo Jima from the point-of-view of the Americans. Whilst Flags of Our Fathers was meant to be the big event film it was Letters from Iwo Jima that actually garnered more acclaim and did slightly better at the Box Office. I feel the point of Letters from Iwo Jima is to tell the audience that there are two sides to every story and that those who fought on the Japanese side were equally as worthy of praise as the American soldiers. The film follows the fortunes of Private Saigo; a baker who is conscripted and leaves his heavily pregnant wife to fight on the island. Saigo often finds himself tortured by his superiors but on the day in which the U.S. Marines start to attack he is the only to keep a level-head. Evading being shot by those in charge several times, Saigo later earns the respect of General Kuribayashi and ultimately being the only one to survive the horrors of the battle. The most striking thing about Letters from Iwo Jima as a whole was the fact that many of the Japanese soldiers took their own lives when they thought that there was no way back. One of the scenes that will stick with me the most from Letters from Iwo Jima is the one in which the majority of Saigo’s platoon blow themselves up with grenades. It’s these moments that hit home the horrific conditions that the Japanese had to deal with and I do applaud Eastwood for trying to honour them in this way.

It did take me a while to truly lose myself in Letters from Iwo Jima and I felt the film only came alive in its latter scenes which was when the action really kicked off. The cast of the movie were all utterly believable in their roles with Kazunari Ninomiya being particularly effective as Saigo. The only familiar face amongst the cast, Ken Watanabe, was perfectly believable as the sensitive Kuribayashi; who at times was the only level-headed member of the military left on the island. Similarly to Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima is shot in a faded manner which at times makes it look almost like documentary footage. Although I’ve not seen Flags of Our Fathers it was interesting to spot the scenes in which the two nations intersected and I’m assuming there are moments that appear in both films. I felt it was particularly brave of Eastwood to portray the Americans as the antagonists particularly in one heart-wrenching scene when a brutish soldier executes two Japanese soldiers who have surrendered. Letters from Iwo Jima was in fact a surprise entrant in the 2007 Best Picture field with many expecting the fifth nominee to be the musical Dreamgirls. However, I think it was good that the academy honoured a subtitled film which actually bucked the trend for war films by focusing on the foreign army. While I can’t say I was a compelled by the film as I possibly should have been there are certain moments of it that will stick with me for years to come.


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