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The island of Iwo Jima stands between the American military force and the home islands of Japan. Therefore the Imperial Japanese Army is desperate to prevent it from falling into American hands and providing a launching point for an invasion of Japan. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi is given command of the forces on the island and sets out to prepare for the imminent attack. General Kuribayashi, however, does not favor the rigid traditional approach recommended by his subordinates, and resentment and resistance fester among his staff. In the lower echelons, a young soldier, Saigo, a poor baker in civilian life, strives with his friends to survive the harsh regime of the Japanese army itself, all the while knowing that a fierce battle looms. When the American invasion begins, both Kuribayashi and Saigo find strength, honor, courage, and horrors beyond imagination. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the second-to-last scene, the captured Japanese soldier is taken to the American landing zones, which were exclusively on the east of Iwo Jima, just north of Mt. Suribachi. The soldier, Saigo, then witnesses the sun 'setting' in the east, not the west. See more »
unlike 'Flags', this time Clint Eastwood's war epic has more cohesion in its complexities, and a stronger punch with its theme
It was worth it for producer/director Clint Eastwood to tackle on a second part to his now two-part duo of Iwo Jima movies. With Flags of Our Fathers Eastwood tried for very ambitious ground in covering what it's like for Americans to fight a war worth fighting for but with life's value undermined in the scope of preserving the 'grander' scheme of things like the flag on the mountain. Unfortunately, the screenplay with that film was also muddled and denied Eastwood's usually assured hand as a storyteller and conveyor of proper moods. But with Letters From Iwo Jima, a slightly radical departure from the usual American-directed war picture by showing the action totally from the side of the "other", there's a stronger sense of what it meant for the Japanese to fight this war, and the nature of sacrifice and what it means to oneself in relation to one's society, national pride, and to one's mind-set. And, this time, the screenplay doesn't do TOO MUCH of a jumping-around method with the narrative. It's visceral in scope and personal in tone, and there's always an assured hand in dealing with the performances and characters.
We're also shown, unlike in other war films, how the home-field advantage doesn't always yield positive results. Even though the Japanese had Iwo Jima, and had the capabilities to defend it for a little while, without reinforcements it would be all for not (this is compounded with some of the most tragic irony when towards the end the General Kuribayashi listens to a radio broadcast of children singing a song meant for hope of success in a battle that those on the mainland have already abandoned). No matter what though Kuribayashi believes in his men, no matter how in spots morale is already low when the digging on the beaches begin. Saigo, a lowly peasant, is a part of the fight, and for chunks of the film we see the battle from where he stands, even as he doesn't look on it too optimistically. Plans are made, the General orders for tunnels to be dug in the center of the island against advisement (though under good thought to do so), and then even before the ships and huge fleet of troops land comes the bombs from the air. The desperation, as the battle continues and trudges on, becomes almost too crushing for the weakest of the soldiers, and soon all thoughts of cohesion within the ranks breaks apart.
It's in many of these scenes that Eastwood garners his most dramatically charged moments in either one of the Iwo Jima movies. Maybe it's almost too easy though- when seeing this movie, taking out of context what was shown in 'Flags', one might think that the Americans had the battle on a silver platter. But taken back into context there's a greater sense of loss on the enemy side, not just of life but of what it means to fight for a cause that is never totally explained, to an Emperor practically all of these soldiers wont see or meet, and that to kill oneself is a brave act against the odds. The scene where many soldiers in the cave kill themselves with grenades- and then with two of the soldiers finally deciding that this is insanity and fleeing from the bodies- is very affecting. Then added to this, we see the letters being written, how the humanity of these people can never be denied no matter how hopeless their situation seemed to get. Sometimes we're also provided with flashbacks for some of the characters (some, like a man talking to his unborn child in his wife's womb, are too atypical, but there is one that leaves a very lasting impression involving the murdering of a dog- a scene that left people in the theater gasping even after so much battle carnage already happened).
Though mostly we're stuck in these caves and tunnels with these soldiers- one of the exceptions of this, Shimizu, was in said scene with the dog- there are other small vignettes, like the lieutenant who decides to break away to strap some explosives on himself to blow up an enemy cannon, only to fall asleep, and once awakened forgetting the whole act. And, of course, the ones who could not think of any other way- in fact seeing it treasonous otherwise- than to not sacrifice oneself for the homeland. All the while the acting is always competent, sometimes even ranging into the brilliant, and with Ken Watanabe delivering some of the finest notes of emotion (and also holding back emotion or hiding a real emotion) that I've seen from him thus far. And as far as the technical side, Eastwood and his crew have created an appropriately very dark looking picture, with the color desaturated so as to look like it's not really black and white but as if the life has been sucked out so as to look terminally gray (if that makes sense), with the battle footage somehow even more convincing than in 'Flags'.
So in the end, the two Iwo Jima movies bring up a lot to ponder about what it is to fight in war, what it means to be akin to the varying degrees of nationalism, and how it affects the psyche of people who were plucked from very normal lives into circumstances of perpetual death and, if one lives, the memories. While one doesn't really need the framing of it being 2005 at the end and beginning of the film, there's enough here to mark it as a significant, fascinating achievement for the filmmaker.
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