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Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00
Local opening date: 1/19/2007
Reviewed by Diane Carson 
Last year, when director Clint Eastwood shot Flags of our Fathers, about the raising of the American flag on Mt. Suribachi and the p.r. campaign that piggybacked on it, he shot a companion piece, Letters from Iwo Jima. This film also focuses on the grueling, tragic 40-day fight for Iwo Jima but this one is from the Japanese point of view.

Adapting Iris Yamashita's script, based on Japanese letters discovered recently on Iwo Jima, Eastwood investigates the enemy. He portrays as many Japanese soldiers with misgivings, with noble sentiments, with loved ones back home whom they deeply miss, with courage, with cowardice, suffering as there are similar Americans.

Day dawns well before the Americans land but the Japanese know they're coming. They also learn fairly quickly that no Japanese reinforcements will arrive-no ships, no soldiers, no planes for backup. This makes the mission to defend Iwo Jima a suicidal one and they know it. The commanding Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi decides digging tunnels deep within the volcanic island offers the strongest defense, and he deploys his men accordingly.

As performed by the accomplished, pitch-perfect, veteran Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, Kuribayashi leads by example and with strength and compassion. In flashbacks, incidents reveal his years in America and he treats a wounded American solider with camaraderie. Other Japanese men become equally complex.

Not since director Lewis Milestone's brilliant and heart-rending, 1930 All Quiet on the Western Front has there been a film so nonjudgmental, so immersed in the enemy's perspectives. This has a tremendous effect on our emotions and intellect. Because the Japanese become three-dimensional, though not overly sentimentalized, individuals, the fate of everyone caught in the trap of war matters, the horrors more awful, the entire experience tragically lamentable. Any year it's an impressive achievement for a director to have one phenomenal film. How truly amazing, then, to have two as Clint Eastwood does. For Letters from Iwo Jima is one of the best pictures of the year, joining the equally accomplished Flags of Our Fathers. And the timing could not be more perfect. In Japanese with English subtitles.

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