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Letters from Iwo Jima
Genre War
Year: 2006
Letters from Iwo Jima is an account of Imperial Japan’s last stand against the US on the island of Iwo Jima. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, but lost to Scorsese’s The Departed. The film is from Clint Eastwood, and comes off the back of Flags of our Fathers, a disappointment in comparison. Letters from Iwo Jima is a classic. The film, originally titled Red Sun, Black Sand starts with some recent shots from Iwo Jima. Remnants include bunkers, old artillery and tunnels. In one of the tunnels, some archaeologists are digging for artifacts.

The audience is transported back to the Second World War, where some Japanese soldiers are digging trenches on the beach. They are preparing for the US invasion of Iwo Jima, and the morale is low. There is division amongst the ranks, and some are critical of the new General’s strategy and thinking. The narrative unearths the conditions, and some of the relationships shared between the diverse characters on Iwo Jima. Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a baker wants to return home to his wife, who is expecting a child. While Shimizu (Ryo Kase) has been sent to die because of his “failure”. The men have been sent to Iwo Jima to protect Japan. The US want Iwo Jima as their base of operations for an all-out attack on Japan. The Imperial soldiers are there to make a complete takeover difficult, signing their death warrants in the process.

Letters from Iwo Jima is punctuated by letters sent from Saigo, one of the soldiers, and the General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe). Memories from the past are relayed amid the warring, and the men are personalised beyond a helmet and a rifle.

It’s fantastic to see traditional Hollywood film directors tackling an unpopular perspective for Americans. The Japanese soldiers are not the enemy, and their struggle is immortalised in this classic film. Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis take writing credits, under the direction of Clint Eastwood.

It’s a titanic struggle, and is possibly one of the saddest films of the year. The honour, the bravery and the senselessness of war are realised in the lives of these soldiers. The unfettering commitment to their country, and their loyalty to the flag are examined. As with most war films, there are moments that will disturb, and the impending doom has a disquieting echo throughout the film. This film is respectful of both sides in the war. It is objective, and although the American perspective isn’t a focus, one isn’t forced to generalise. The truth of the war is that it comes down to individuals. Atrocities and injustice is prominent in any war, but it is the intentions of individuals that matter.

Ken Watanabe is superb in his performance as the General. Echoes of his performance in The Last Samurai can be found in Letters from Iwo Jima. Kazunari Ninomiya conveys all the anxiety, horror and desperation of Saigo, in his portrayal of the baker. Their performances help one realise that the two sides and cultures are completely alien to one another in the heat of war. The kindness and humility expressed in some of the individual characters is refreshing, and shatters stereotypical-thinking in many cases.

Letters from Iwo Jima is a moving war film that shifts perspectives. It truly deserves its Oscar nomination, and would’ve been a worthy winner of the Best Picture award, had The Departed not taken top honours.

The bottom line: Intrinsic.

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