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.
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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