IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH CLINT EASTWOOD REVIEW: “Letters from Iwo Jima” stars Ken Watanabe (Inception, The Last Samurai), Kazunari Ninomiya (Killing for the Prosecution, Gantz), Tsuyoshi Ihara (13 Assassins, Hatsukoi), Ryo Kase (Restless, The Outrage), Shido Nakamura (Fearless, Red Cliff), Hiroshi Watanabe (Childrens Hospital [TV series], White on Rice), Takumi Bando (Rain Fall, The Lightning Tree), Yuki Matsuzaki (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, The Pink Panther 2), Takashi Yamaguchi (Sophie and the Rising Sun, Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders [TV series]), and Eijiro Ozaki (The Man in the High Castle [TV series], DC’s Legends of Tomorrow [TV series]). It is directed by Clint Eastwood (American Sniper, The Mule), with the screenplay being written by Iris Yamashita.
The story of the WWII battle of Iwo Jima, told from the side of the Japanese having to defend their country from American invasion.
We round out this director’s marathon with the 2006 companion film to “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters from Iwo Jima.” What baffles me most about this movie (besides the interesting angle of telling D-Day from the Japanese’s side), is how Mr. Eastwood shot this simultaneously with another war flick. All at the age of seventy-five. Come on, son. I aspire to have an ounce of the work ethic this legend has.
From the writing to the acting, this is a true Japanese story. Of course, it’s an American crew, but that doesn’t slight the care put into crafting this story that shows the humanity (or loss of it) in both sides to a war. “Letters” is an odd choice for Eastwood, at least in my opinion. He’s made small stories before, but this is something that seems outside of his wheelhouse; to direct actors who all speak dialogue in a different language is pretty interesting, and all the more daunting at the same time. Watching the behind-the-scenes, Eastwood told it like it is: it’s a massive undertaking not knowing when the scene is really over.
Although the cast is comprised mostly of unknowns, all of them do a solid job. Ken Watanabe is wonderful as always, and the forerunners who round out the cast (Ninomiya, Ihara, Kase, and Nakamura) are very talented. They brought a rawness to their role that made the story all the more believable; to me, it’s the mark of a good performer when their performance makes my eyes drift to them instead of the subtitles at the bottom.
With every war movie you’ve gotta have your action sequences, and this one is packed full of them. The imminent invasion of the U.S. is quite scary, and the battle that takes place clearly evokes that Japan had no shot. Eastwood and his DP filmed this well, with gruesome explosions and carnage to fill the frame. Interwoven with this are various flashbacks from the perspectives of specific characters who write letters to their loved ones. These moments are nice contrasts, and deepen the narrative in a rather poetic way; the intersplicing them (and voice over bits) can be a bit choppy, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
“Letters from Iwo Jima” is a sad feature, which I find to be a common emotion in all of Eastwood’s pictures in this marathon. Humanizing these characters and their effort makes for a strong, impactful viewing experience that in some ways, makes you root for them (and against our own country, yeesh). Needless to say, everyone loses in war, and the story of Iwo Jima is a rough one. While it isn’t my favorite of Eastwood’s, it certainly deserves merit for the narrative it tells and the execution of it. FINAL SCORE: 87%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: