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             3.   LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA


                       (Photo and poster: Warner Brothers)

By Omar P.L. Moore/The Popcorn Reel

Clint Eastwood does something very special here: he tells the story of the 1945 Battle Of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective -- not something that the winning (or losing) sides in a war are apt to tell accurately.  After all, history is written by its victors, as the saying goes.  With very few flaws Eastwood tells the story marvelously, through both his direction and fine acting from Ken Watanabe in particular.  The famed director, on his way (if he's not already there) to becoming one of the great directors of his generation if he continues to tell superb stories like this, has the indispensable help of Iris Yamashita, a Japanese woman born in the United States who wrote and adapted the screenplay from the actual letters of the real-life Lieutenant General Kuribayashi (played by Watanabe in the film) and the authenticity is reflected on screen. 

Eastwood and his team did incredibly thorough research for the film.  "Letters From Iwo Jima" is about a group of Japanese soldiers who essentially wait to die in their fierce battle to protect their homeland from invasion by the Americans.  The Japanese men take time to think about their own existence.  They know their fate and are resigned to it.  They fight valiantly, dying for honorable and not cowardly reasons, and they spend their days attempting to reconnect through the written word with the families they have left behind in favor of the country that implores them to fight on to the death in what has become a futile exercise.  Nonetheless, despite overwhelming odds and being heavily outnumbered, the soldiers fought on for much longer than was expected -- about 45 days.  All told, more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers died.  Acts of bravery, courage and kindness under both duress and contemplation defined their struggle.  War is not the answer, as Marvin Gaye once sung. 

The film resists most of the cliches and stereotypes of Japanese that have plagued numerous other American films.  Even in one of the film's weakest scenes the men come to understand that the American and Japanese soldiers have much in common with each other.  Shot in very faded color so as to make it for all intents and purposes a black and white film, "Letters" is a one-of-a-kind motion picture that harkens back to the story telling of the 1930's and 1940's, the golden era of American movies when special effects rarely intruded and the acting truly was the biggest star of all.  Paul ("Crash") Haggis assisted in the script with Ms. Yamashita and Steven Spielberg was among the producers of this film, the companion to Mr. Eastwood's earlier film "Flags Of Our Fathers", which was a very good film by itself.  "Flags"' stronger companion expands across the United States on January 19 and continues its run in Japan -- where it has been seen and admired by many for almost a full month -- while soon making its way around the globe.

The PopcornReel.com "Letters From Iwo Jima" film review first appeared on December 20, 2006.


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