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STEPHEN'S MOVIE GUIDE

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)   rating

Review: written 2008

The defence of Iwo Jima, seen through Japanese eyes

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

It was a brave move by Eastwood to make not one but two movies about Iwo Jima, and braver still to show the pivotal conflict from each sides point of view. Where Flags of Our Fathers was flawed in its approach, muting the impact, `Letters..' is more perfectly formed, and arguably more complex in nature - and it's a success.

Through sepia, almost colourless photography, we see the defence of Iwo Jima from the viewpoint of several Japanese soldiers. We see them, and we hear them in the forms of their letters they write home, letters that they know may never reach their intended recipients. From this simple framework, we see the build-up of defences as the new commanding officer arrives (Ken Watanabe, brilliant) and also from the viewpoint of the soldiers filling sandbags, through to the invasion of the hordes of Americans, and through to the final death throes of the last vestiges of defence.

The range of characters (for example, working class disillusioned solider, aristocratic gentleman officer, honourable commanding officer sworn to his duty but grieved with it) is wider than we might expect, and makes the anti-war message very clear - we are all the same. Previous war movies have shown one man from the other side to be more complex or sympathetic to us, but here we see the whole Japanese cross section of society, and it presents us with a picture on one hand of a society different from ours, and yet so similar in the humanity of it. Even in one sub-section - the officers for example, a complex range of views, opinions and impact is observed. Rarely has an American movie shown such a sophisticated approach to a one-time enemy, and ultimately a sympathetic approach to the horror they endured, just as the Allied soldiers did. One of the key moments comes in the capture of an American soldier, and how even if some of the soldiers cannot separate the propaganda they have learned from what they see, the words of his mother in a letter are so universally maternal, that they can not help but see what is common between them is greater than that which is different.

It feels like quite a long movie, and the pace is stately in an almost Japanese style which may put some off, however this pushes the movie beyond some flash bang war movie to satisfy the bloodthirsty, and creates that difficult thing to achieve - a movie about the war, showing the war, yet a firm indictment of the effects of war.

Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)




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