Letters From Iwo Jima

 
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written by:Iris Yamashita
Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shido Nakamura, Hiroshi Watanabe
Released: February 22, 2007
Grade: A-

Less than four months, Flags Of Fathers was released in Australian cinemas.  Focusing on a small group of marines, it showed how U.S. troops took control of the Japanese island of Iwo Jima near the end of World War II.  Clint Eastwood’s film highlighted the difficulty of the battle and the uncertainty with which the vulnerable soldiers fought.  I really enjoyed it.

Letters From Iwo Jima tells the same story but from the opposite perspective.  Also directed by Clint Eastwood, it looks at how the Japanese soldiers prepared for combat and how they did their best to repel the advancing U.S. military.

Eastwood’s concept of making two films from differing standpoints is masterful.  The young soldiers on both sides are fighting because they believe in honouring and protecting their country.  These soldiers didn’t start the war nor do they have no personal grievances against the men they are firing at.  You will understand both the U.S. and Japanese perspectives and it may lead you to wonder why they’re even fighting at all.

Letters From Iwo Jima follows several characters but the two most focal are Saigo (Ninomiya), an unmotivated solider who knows that he will be killed, and General Kuribayashi (Watanabe), the passionate strategist chosen to lead the operation.  Things look promising early for the Japanese but the situation deteriorates with each passing day.  Unlike the Americans, they have no navy ships or air force planes to help defend the island.  It is a battle that cannot be won.

Most critics have been in agreement that Letters From Iwo Jima is superior to Flags Of Our Fathers Iwo Jima won the Golden Globe for best foreign language film and has been nominated for best picture at the Oscars.  Flags has been largely ignored this award season.

I think both films are great and find it hard to separate them.  I enjoyed Flags more for its narrative (particularly the story regarding the heroes being exploited back home) but I enjoyed Iwo Jima more for the sense of pointlessness and hopelessness that it creates.  Someone suggested taking the best scenes from both films and turning it into one giant movie.  I’m not sure if it would work but I’d like to see how it would turn out.

Ten years ago, Clint Eastwood was known as one of Hollywood’s greatest actors.  Now, he is known as one of Hollywood’s greatest directors.  He can make a damn good movie.