Letters from Iwo Jima (15)

Directed by Clint Eastwood, Written by Iris Yamashita
Screening at FACT from 23rd February 2007

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

In watching this companion piece to Flags Of Our Fathers, also directed by Clint Eastwood, it was refreshing to see a Second World War film from the viewpoint of the opposing forces. Another leading example is Das Boot (The Boat), which is mainly filmed within the confines of a German U-Boat attacking British naval forces in the Atlantic Ocean.

Shot mostly in a highly effective near-monochrome, and subtitled throughout - except for a couple of brief snatches of English-speaking Americans - Letters from Iwo Jima depicts the desperate and ultimately futile struggle by the Japanese to repel an American onslaught to take possession of the island, in what proved to be the pivotal battle fought in the Pacific.

The title derives from the masses of letters written by Japanese soldiers to their loved ones unearthed on the island by researchers sixty years later.

Retreat is not an option in the Japanese code of honour, and the film starkly depicts a gruesome scene where a number of trapped soldiers in one of the caves they had built commit ritual suicide by blowing themselves up with a grenade, rather than surrender to the enemy.

Lieutenant General Kuribayashi, played by Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai and Batman Begins) is despatched to Iwo Jima by the Japanese high command to take over control of the Japanese defence. He knows that defeat, his own death and that of his soldiers is inevitable, but he faces up to it with bravery and dignity. It humanises the Japanese at war instead of the stereotypical wild and snarling figures normally depicted in war films.

As with Flags of Our Fathers the bloody and brutal battle scenes in this film are magnificently captured by Eastwood, including a nauseating moment when an injured American soldier is bayoneted to death by two Japanese - you can hear his bones being crushed!

I must admit, despite it being a very watchable film, I have had my fill of war movies, especially ones which attempt to give the audiences a message. As with the poet WH Auden, who said none of his anti-war poetry prevented a Jew being gassed to death, no anti-war film has prevented a soldier being slain in battle.

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