Letters From Iwo Jima

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Movie Review by Clyde Baehr

Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase
Director: Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood at seventy-six shows no signs of slowing with his explosive 27th film in the directors chair.

Over the last few years Eastwood has wowed audiences and the Academy, proving that he is comfortable with any genre. Last year he offered up FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS a so-so Second World War film in the SAVING PRIVATE RYAN mould. The film was a depiction of the American struggle to take the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, and lacked something of an edge.

Well here it is, the edge. The flip side to FLAGS, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, again shows the events of the Iwo Jima conflict, only this time from the viewpoint of Japanese. Sidestepping the argument of one-sided-ness that dogs so many war movies today and finds the real emotional story of Iwo Jima. While the US was on the right side of the war it was the challenge of the few Japanese soldiers stationed on the island with no mainland support and expected to last only a few days, which provides the components of a great film.

The film centres on young soldier Saigo, (Kazunari Ninomiya) trying to survive the lowest ranks of the army and General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), educated in the USA and struggling with the prospect of fighting a the might of a nation he respects and charged with the impossible. Both actors give remarkable performances.

Fresh, emotional and insightful LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA deals with the enemy with empathy, humanising and sympathizing with the front line. The letters themselves (dug up in a bunker decades later) provide reason to flash back to happier times without the need for the laboured and clumsy “At home I was a simple…” and providing light relief and emotional depth. There are no caricatures here just a lot of very scared men surrounded by American forces, and trapped not only by the island, but by their honour.

While its subtitles provide authenticity they also ensure it is unlikely to be a huge draw with out Oscar in allegiance. At 141minutes it does feel a little long, there is only so much panic, gunfire and chaos you can watch through a jarring camera before your eyes lose focus. LETTERS bares more resemblance to Eastwood’s Spaghetti Westerns than a genre war movie, slow and brooding with sudden bursts of violence.

5 out of 6 stars