Directed by Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima is the better half to Flags of Our Fathers and depicts the Japanese side of the landmark battle of WWII.
The film is centered on the story of a young soldier named Saigo. He was once a baker with his wife and now a reluctant soldier. His attitude is on the verge of treason, so he keeps his mouth shut, despite his ideals. But it’s his unsoldier like traits that allow him to do great things in the battle and preserve historic treasures.
As the battle draws nearer, the outlook becomes grimmer. The mainland isn’t sending air or naval support to the troops on Iwo Jima. The generals realize that the battle will become a suicide mission, and they encourage their men to die with honor.
This sort of honor might be controversial and horrifying to some people. In Japanese culture, it is more honorable to commit suicide than to be captured by the enemy. Images of soldiers standing together in a cave, with the silent pressure to take their turn pulling the pin of a grenade, pushing the button against their helmets and clutching it to explode on the cave walls and their comrades are disturbing to say the least. I usually love blood and gore, but with the theme of suicide, I was being pushed to limits I didn’t know I had. This was one of the first times I wanted the realism toned down. Eastwood is welcome to take that as an honor and a burden for my nightmares at the same time.
In the battle scenes, this feels like Saving Private Ryan on Iwo Jima. They’re just as intense, graphic and chaotic, it even does a few seconds of first person camera to engage you in the battle more. One thing Letters did that Ryan didn’t was make me much more fearsome of a flamethrower.
A word of caution, the entire film is in Japanese. So if you’re not into reading subtitles the whole time, maybe check out Flags of Our Fathers instead. That film might make you feel a little more patriotic, instead of watching the good men we fought against so long ago.
“We can die here, or we can continue fighting. Which would better serve the emperor?”