Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)

When I heard that Letters From Iwo Jima was the companion film to "Flags of Our Fathers," which I extremely disliked, I put off seeing it. Still though, I was at least a little bit curious about this film that deals with such an important WW II battle, that I finally decided to check it out. It is directed by Clint Eastwood.

The film begins, in a manner reminiscent of "Saving Private Ryan" with a look at modern day Iwo Jima, and the relatively small monument that stands at the peak of Mount Suribachi. We quickly cut to 1944, and show the Japanese soldiers digging in their fortifications for the impending American invasion. You see, the unique aspect of this film is that it shows the battle not from the American side, but from the Japanese side (which likely explains why it was such a hit in Japan). While this is an intriguing concept that the entire film is in Japanese takes this concept more than a little too far. Seriously folks, after about an hour of reading subtitles, I wished that there was an English subtitle track at least for the DVD, instead of another disc of useless bonus features.

As Letters From Iwo Jima develops, we meet Japanese soldiers of several different ranks. Then, like in a season of TV's "Lost," we develop these characters further by showing scenes of their life before war, and showing that they are just ordinary folks thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Then with the American invasion in full swing, we see how the outnumbered Japanese fight while low on food, water and ammunition. Clearly, this was a dark time for them, but their humanity does poke through the blood and guts on a few occasions, like when they have a touching conversation with a captured American Marine, and they all realize that they’re not that different.

I know that this film was the lower budget of the two, but I was still appalled that they recycled several of the battle scenes straight out of "Flags of Our Fathers." At least they should have cut it a little differently, or had a different angle on the same machine gun nest. My near photographic memory simply identified too many scenes that should have been mixed up a little more to keep it visually more interesting.

Still, in the end, despite the lengthy 2:20 running time, I did find Letters from Iwo Jima a stronger effort than "Flags of Our Fathers." It shows that "war is hell," no matter which side of the battle that you're on.

Overall Grade: B


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