Director: Clint Eastwood
Starring: Ken Watanabe
IMDb Rating: 8
My Rating: 8
"If our children live safely for one more day, it would be worth one more day that we defend this island."
During World War II, the Japanese occupied island of Iwo Jima is the last barrier between the United States military forces and the main island of Japan. Iwo Jima would prove a perfect base for the American forces to attack, which the Japanese are aware of and are ready to prevent. The initial plan of attack plays out like a suicide mission, but when General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) is given command of the island, he sets out with a different goal in mind. This angers other leaders under General Kuribayashi's command and also others stationed on the island. This even causes a few of them to leave. As we learn more about the existing conflicts between the ranks, we also get a view into the current and past lives of many of the soldiers. This film is from the Japanese point of view of the war, and is the companion to Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers.
It's rare, not unheard of mind you, that a World War II film released by an American director shows any point of view of the war other than the United States'. Letters from Iwo Jima is exactly that, a look into the lives of the people that saw us as the threat. This film really just gives us a sense that even though the United States was at war with Japan, we were really not much different. Soldiers had to leave their wives and families behind to defend their country, just as we did in the United States. This film also shows that you can make an excellent war film without littering it with propaganda. Letters from Iwo Jima succeeds because it tells a story, rather than just taking a bias and slanted view at war.
Ken Watanabe gives the memorable performance of this film. His calmness set against the background of an unknown fate and an inevitable invasion from a much larger army really stands out. Where everyone around him is in hysterics, Watanabe's General Kuribayashi leads with poise and confidence. In most films, it feels like every leader portrayed is trying to be as Patton-esque as possible. This is the complete opposite of that, and ultimately succeeds by doing so.
In the grand scheme of war films, Letters from Iwo Jima might not rank as one of my favorites, but it is definitely a refreshing view of war. There are the usual intense explosions, but the unbias angle and view of the soldiers fears and worries really set this film apart. More film than propaganda, I enjoyed it far more this time than my initial viewing in theaters during the Oscar season of 2007. As mentioned earlier, this is the companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers and in my opinion, Letters from Iwo Jima is the better film and story of the two.