This is Clint Eastwood's companion to his film Flags of Our Fathers which was the story of the battle for Iwo Jima and the men who raised the American flag over Mount Suribachi.
Like Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story of the battle through the eyes of the soldiers who fought there. Although this is an American production, almost all of the dialog is in Japanese with English subtitles. The only time when English is spoken in the film is in the few scenes in which Americans are present. Watching both films, one finds themselves gasping at the horror that each side had to endure. Unlike Joyeux Noel, which told the story of the unofficial World War I Christmas truce in which Scot, French and German soldiers crossed the lines and celebrated Christmas with each other, there is very little feeling of goodwill toward the other side in either film. This is war most brutal.
Yet the foot soldiers on each side really had more in common with each other than they had differences. Their nations are at war and the politicians on each side, sitting safely behind the lines, urge them to fight harder. Yet most of these foot soldiers are just ordinary men who have been yanked away from their jobs and families to fight. Their main objective, while doing their duty to their respective countries, is to stay alive and get back to their families and their lives.
One of the amazing things about this film is that it is an American film attempting to tell the story from the Japanese point of view. Of course, in reading some reviews there are criticisms from some Japanese quarters complaining about little American basis that creep in here and there. Given Japan's near refusal to even acknowledge, let alone apologize for the suffering inflicted on countries like China and Korea during the war by Japan, it seems strange to criticize an American film for not presenting the Japanese view with 100% accuracy. After all, how many nations, a mere 60 years after a bitter war have a scene in a movie, as this one does, showing their troops shooting prisoners who have already surrendered?
Like Flags of Our Fathers, before it, this is a film about ordinary soldiers struggling to do what is expected of them and to survive in conditions that are difficult outside of battle and pure horror during the battles. Politics and ideology are largely absent in both films and this makes it easier for the viewer to emphasize with the soldiers in both films.
NOTE: This review was first published by me on FusePress.com and Blogevolve two sites with low readership and where no longer (in the case of FusePress) publish or rarely publish (Blogevolve).