4 June 2007 | mOVIemAN56
An absolute must see, simply tremendous
After much anticipation I was finally able to see Letters from Iwo Jima. I had left Flags of Our Fathers with a smile on my face saying now that was a great war film and it would be hard to match. Letters from Iwo Jima not only matches Flags of Our Fathers but also surpasses it and went on to tie Saving Private Ryan as the greatest war film I have ever seen. I sat numbed after viewing this film and look forward to watching it again.
Unlike its predecessor, Letters from Iwo Jima follows one story line set on the island of Iwo Jima. Saigo is a baker who was recruited into the Imperial Army of Japan and is stationed on Iwo Jima. General Kuribayashi soon arrives and takes command of the poorly fortified island. Tensions develop between army commanders and Kuribayashi as he fortifies a plan to defend the island. Soon the battle begins when a massive American Fleet arrives planning to take the island within 5 days. Kuribayashi is determined to inflict as much damage and loss of life upon the American's before he will give up the island. The whole while Saigo and his comrades write numerous letters home in the hopes of getting some sense of what home is.
The film is terribly realistic and loaded with violence. However, in no way does Letters from Iwo Jima glorify warfare. Eastwood portrays battles for what they truly are bloody and horrific. We are shown everything from men being lit on fire to being blown to bits to suicides by grenades. We are shown the true futility of war and how each side understands so little about the other. The film is a great message of anti-war just through showing what war truly is: bombardments, death, destruction, and bloody.
Kazunari Ninomiya to my big surprise is a member of a Japanese boy band. When I went to read through the profiles of some of the actors I expected to see a long list of films but was amazed to only find a few films and the bit about him being a member of Arashi (the band). Ninomiya does a fantastic job. We really feel for him but he is not made out to be entirely sympathetic. He shows much disdain for some people around him and occasionally runs his mouth toward fellow comrades, especially Shimizu. Saigo is a very believable character and Ninomiya portrays him quite well. I applaud his performance.
Ken Watanabe gives perhaps the performance of his career. His stunning deliverance of lines and the sheer look of him on the screen is enough to make a viewer sit up and listen to everything he has to say. He gives off the true sense of a man who is a great military commander but also a human being. We are shown him writing home and also told of some of his past. It is quite moving to hear his views on the war, the battle, and of his men. Kuribayashi is one of my favorite military men in history and Watanabe did a great portrayal of him.
Ryo Kase closes out the lead actors. He is a silent fellow who is looked on with much disdain from Saigo. Saigo believes Shimizu to be a member Kempeitai (the very strict and often corrupt military police of Imperial Japan). This story is eventually expanded on later in the film. I felt the most sympathy for Shimizu for he had no intention of coming to the island, is not liked by anyone for an assumption by two fellow soldiers, and represents some of the ignorance that was put into soldiers back in World War II, viewing the enemy as savages though he later states "he knows nothing of the enemy."
What the movie does so well is its portrayal of humanity and the ignorance that is at the root of international conflicts. The film portrays both the good and the bad of the Imperial Japanese Army. The good side being Lt. Col. Nishi and the bad being Lt. Ito. We come to realize that most Hollywood films that make the Japanese Army out to be savages are dead wrong and that both sides on a war are very much human. The most poignant scene by far involves this when Nishi cares for and speaks with a dying Marine. It shows that understanding must occur for anyone to have peace with another in the world.
Letters from Iwo Jima is a powerful film. We are shown the good and the bad of both sides. The film is about 98% in Japanese with three or four scenes spoken in English. The cast is all Japanese which was a must for the film giving it a more authentic feel to it. The battles are gritty and real and will shake you up. By far a tremendous film with an amazing message of humanity and survival. The one message I got from it the most was, as spoken by Lt. Col. Nishi: "Do what is right because it is right."