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March 5, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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Letters From Iwo Jima

Directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Paul Haggis, Letters From Iwo Jima is the companion piece to Flags of our Fathers. Both films are about the WWII battle for Iwo Jima. Flags of our Fathers is from an American viewpoint and Letters From Iwo Jima from a Japanese.

Letters From Iwo Jima follows the story of Saigo, a Private, and General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the overall commander of the island. Saigo is a baker with a wife and a baby he has never met.

Unlike his commanding officers, he has no real enthusiasm for the war and is more concerned with getting back to his family than dying an honorable death. Kuribayashi, who has lived in America (and therefore understands how the enemy thinks) is an egalitarian commander who leads from the front and has no time for unnecessary formality. His first priority is defending the homeland, which puts him at odds with many of his top officers who want only to commit suicide in the face of inevitable defeat. We see the bloody battle unfold though the eyes of Saigo, Kuribayashi and several lesser characters.

Letters From Iwo Jima felt like the film makers had taken a bunch of clichés from other American war movies and put them in this film, hoping nobody would notice because it’s all in Japanese. Most of the character development is done though cheesy flashbacks, the laziest way to tell a story. The war-is-hell type stuff, for the most part, is so ridiculously earnest it ends up lacking any real emotional resonance.

As an historical piece it was hollow and simplistic. It added nothing new to films about WWII and made no real statement on war in general. Eastwood, a conservative, and Haggis, a liberal, seem only capable of pushing the idealised and well-established myths of WWII.

Fortunately, historians like Howard Zinn and authors like Joseph Heller (who both fought in WWII) have shown that the Second World War was a complex event involving real people. Sadly, there is no one in Hollywood with the will or the courage to do the same. Therefore, we end up with more forgettable films like Letters From Iwo Jima.


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