Review of Letters From Iwo Jima directed by Clint Eastwood, written by Iris Yamshita and Paul Haggis
As a companion piece for Flags of Our Fathers, this film succeeds on all levels. Unlike other reviews, I give the edge to Flags as the better of the two. Mostly because of the starkness of this film. I felt Flags of Our Fathers was richer.
The majority of this film takes place on Iwo Jima, which is the main reason this film seems so stark. The island is no paradise. The only opportunity to film off the island is during flashbacks. Sometimes they work and sometimes they feel forced and artificial. Additionally, a good portion of the film takes place inside the caves dug into the island by the Japanese soldiers, adding to the sense of claustrophobia.
The film does a good job of balancing the battle between the American and Japanese perspectives. American soldiers are portrayed as both heroic, frightened, and barbaric. These same qualities are shown in the Japanese soldiers. The film shows us that there are more similarities than differences between the two sides. The one cultural difference is the Japanese dictum to fight until death. This resulted in the needless deaths of some 20,000 Japanese soldiers.
Ken Watanabe’s performance as General Tadamichi stands out. He conveys much with only his body language and expressions. Had this film been shot twenty years ago, the characters would have spoken in English. The film doesn’t lose anything with the use of subtitles.
The one major omission is not showing the flag raising from the Japanese perspective. That would have tied the two films together better. The bonus DVD has a very good Making of documentary, but there is nothing on the actual people or the battle. Also on the bonus DVD are two premieres, a casting short, and an image collection.