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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 39.53%
Average: 2.33%
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5 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Letters from Iwo Jima
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by William Goss

"Fight of the Living Dead"
5 stars

So very many films have already approached war – and World War II, to be specific – from many an angle: the historical, the heroic, the harrowing. As such, just when the subgenre seems to have exhausted itself, along comes director Clint Eastwood with a two-fold approach to the subject matter that manages to only be refreshing, but could indeed stand to be the last word on it. While his first film about the battle of Iwo Jima offered some honesty regarding American ideals during wartime, his second, 'Letters from Iwo Jima,' decides to bestow upon our faceless enemies a genuine sense of humanity, one that decidedly casts the futility of war in a more sensible light.

“Hanako, am I digging my own grave?”

With duty thrust upon them and barely any air or sea forces to support them, the Japanese soldiers stationed on Iwo Jima find themselves bracing for the looming invasion of their island by obeying the command of General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, Memoirs of a Geisha, Batman Begins), whose strategy of digging caves and tunnels in Mount Suribachi and throughout the island creates a heads-in-the-sand mentality that leaves his men to fend off dysentery and contemplate their inevitable fate in the face of an American onslaught.

Eastwood and writer Iris Yamashita (who splits story credit with Flags of Our Fathers scribe Paul Haggis) refuses making saints out of the Japanese – after all, for many a soldier, anything less than pride in one’s nation and honor in one’s willing sacrifice for it was considered cowardice – but the primary accomplishment of an American filmmaker is to make them just as human as ours, and likewise, for our troops to be regarded as the faceless opponent as they surely were. Both sides fought for what they thought were the right reasons, and yet losses on either side proved to be equally lamentable, while any contrast in convictions personal and public was swiftly regarded as unpatriotic dissent. As a man whose sense of duty is allowed to co-exist with his common sense, Watanabe’s stoic general elects to fight a losing battle as best he can, while young baker Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) simply strives to survive and equestrian Olympian Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) remains off his high horse, even when he’s literally on it.

When Kuribayashi initially arrives on Iwo, his shift in strategy from beach trenches to posts on and under Suribachi leaves several officers none too pleased, while an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach has many unaware of just how outnumbered and outgunned they really are, so that come the American incursion, their pride and honor ultimately result in the loss of innocent lives. Those booms heard and bodies found underground by American soldiers in Flags? That would be Japanese soldiers ordered to commit suicide by grenade, as graphically depicted here, instead of retreating. Once again, Tom Stern’s downcast cinematography promotes a necessary consistency, the more judicious inclusion of flashbacks over an equivalent running time proves more effective, and the score by Michael Stevens and Kyle Eastwood (son of Clint) manages to be even more graceful than its predecessor. While the occasional overlap is welcome and the films do indeed complement each other rather well, Letters not only stands on its own, but stands even higher than Flags as a testament against the wages of war.

Both 'Flags' and 'Letters' are about the power of beliefs and the price of defending them, and taken together, Eastwood’s achievement is nothing short of remarkable, one made all the more impressive given his ripe age of 76. When considered alongside his work of late, Clint’s films share a distinct thematic affinity: regarding – and revering – the quintessential human triumph of doing what’s right in a world that is often so tragically wrong.

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originally posted: 02/12/07 22:50:06
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User Comments

1/10/09 Shaun Wallner Thought this was a good film. 5 stars
12/31/08 Dan Terrific movie right up there with Flags, loved it. No, it didn't make fascism more just. 5 stars
4/27/08 AnnieG Better than FoOF. A little hard to follow in parts. Check real survivor numbers! 4 stars
3/05/08 R.W. Welch Tries a little too hard to make fascist fanatics loveable. Slick work though. 4 stars
3/02/08 Amanda I love Shido Nakamura!! He is an awesome actor and very handsome.. 5 stars
1/24/08 Double M And i thought i hated wars enough.. Thanks Mr Eastwood for this sad depressing masterpiece! 5 stars
8/18/07 Phil M. Aficionado A very good, if somewhat labored, piece. It was slower than expected, though. Haunting 4 stars
7/08/07 mr.mike has its moments , but somewhat of a disappointment. 3 stars
5/08/07 sam bonner a masterpiece of anti-militarism, and one of the saddest things you'll ever see. 5 stars
3/08/07 Ole Man Bourbon Good, but a little foregettable. 4 stars
2/13/07 Johno Excellent movie. Recommend everyone to watch it. 5 stars
12/26/06 Todd One of the best WW2 movies I've ever seen, if not the best. 5 stars
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  20-Dec-2006 (R)
  DVD: 22-May-2007



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