Director Spike Lee publicly criticized Clint Eastwood for an apparent lack of African-American performers in this movie and 'Flags of Our Fathers.' Eastwood retaliated with the historical fact that the US military refused to let most "colored" servicemen on the front line, ergo, very few African-Americans would appear in the battle scenes.
One of the only nine foreign language films ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. Though shot almost entirely in Japanese, it was an American production, thus ineligible for a Best Foreign Language Film nomination.
The only cast member to be in both this film and its companion piece, Flags of our Fathers (2006), appears in the flamethrowing image of Chuck Lindberg (played by Alessandro Mastrobuono). He advances on a bunker with a flamethrower. Individual members of the casts of both films have met, though never officially presented together, as there are commonalities between the casts in the acting community.
The original plan was to tell both sides of the story in one movie but as production developed, it became obvious that there was too much to tell and that the two separate cultures created very distinctively separate storylines.
The scene where the two Marines are left to guard the two Japanese prisoners of war, the two Marines fear that unless they dispose of the two prisoners and leave, they may be killed by other Japanese soldiers if they stay there, so they end up killing the two Japanese prisoners. And in an unintended demonstration of how cruel war can be, the Marines not only dispose of the two prisoners, but end up proven to be right, because as soon after they left, the Japanese squad of soldiers does, in fact, arrive at their location and discover the two dead Japanese soldiers and, if the Marines did remain guarding them, it would have been the two Marines that would have been killed, just as they feared.
Filmed in Malibu. To film extensively on the island of Iwo Jima would have been too impractical, not to mention lacking in reverence, as the island is an unmarked grave for the thousands of soldiers who were killed there.
Flags of our Fathers (2006) was originally expected to be Warner Brothers' big Oscar contender that year but when it fell short of expectations - both critically and commercially - the decision was taken to rush Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) into release for award consideration. The film was originally scheduled to open in February.
Special permission had to be given by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to film on the actual island of Iwo Jima. It is a national monument today as it is essentially the grave for over 10,000 missing Japanese soldiers.