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Letters From Iwo Jima

Letters From Iwo Jima
Paramount Pictures
Rated R
Review by: Larry Thomas

When multi-award-winning filmmaker Clint Eastwood was hard at work planning Flags of Our Fathers, about the battle of Iwo Jima, and the raising of the flag on the summit of Mt. Suribachi, he had a vision. Why not a companion film, from the Japanese perspective, about why the outmanned, and ultimately doomed, Japanese soldiers fought on to the end.

That idea gave birth to Letters From Iwo Jima, which won the Golden Globe award for "Best Foreign Language Film." As archaeologists are excavating the caves on Iwo Jima, they come across letters to family members that have been buried there for decades. The opening of these letters allows the film to unfold in flashback.

The most memorable characters are General Kurabiyashi, a leader with a non-traditional view of war who manages to shock and offend all the other officers with his plans and opinions, and Saigo, a poor baker with a wife and son. The general is well represented by Ken Takakura, best known to American audiences for such films as Memoirs Oa a Geisha and The Last Samurai. As Saigo, Kazunari Ninomiya, gives a heartfelt performance worthy of an Oscar nomination. The rest of the cast also turns in terrific work in bringing this fascinating tale to life.

Eastwood guides his crew and cast with great skill, even though he needed an interpreter to communicate with most of the actors. The film is shot in muted browns on the volcanic island location, which almost gives it a non-color look. The script by Iris Yamashita is well paced, and maintains interest throughout the almost two-and-a-half hour running time. The moving and evocative score is by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Williams.

Even though the film is about those considered "the enemy," it's still about soldiers and war and friendship and families…no matter what side they're on. The emotions of the participants, and the results of war, are the same.

While Flags of Our Fathers was not as successful, critically or financially, as most recent Eastwood films, Letters From Iwo Jima more than makes up for it.


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