Saturday, June 14, 2014

Letters from Iwo Jima

Based on the books Picture Letters from the Commander in Chief by Tadamichi Kuribayashi and So Sad to Fall in Battle: An Account of War by Kumiko Kakehashi, Letters from Iwo Jima is about the battle of Iwo Jima in World War II told from the perspective of the Japanese who would defend the island against the Americans. Directed by Clint Eastwood and screenplay by Iris Yamashita from a screen story by Yamashita and Paul Haggis, the film is the second part of Eastwood’s double-feature film about the battle of Iwo Jima as the first film in Flags of Our Fathers was about the American perspective. Starring Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Ryo Kase, Tsuyoshi Ihara, and Shido Nakamura. Letters from Iwo Jima is a tremendously haunting film from Clint Eastwood.

The film is about the battle of Iwo Jima told from the perspective of the Japanese as they’re led by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) who deals with the limited resources and lack of support from his fellow generals to face the Americans who had just destroyed the Japanese navy in the Philippines. With Iwo Jima the one island that stands between mainland Japan and the Americans, Kuribiyashi and his men not only have their backs against the wall but also the fact that they might not go home as they’re forced to fight to just survive. While the film is largely told from Kuribayashi’s perspective, it’s also told from the perspective of a young soldier named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) who watches the battle as well as endure all of the chaos that goes on as he tries to fight for Kuribayashi despite the charges of cowardice from other officers.

The film’s screenplay is very straightforward though it begins and ends in modern-day Iwo Jima where archeologists would find the letters that Japanese soldiers wrote to their loved ones. These letters would be the basis for who Kuribayashi, Saigo, Lt. Col. Baron Takeichi Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), and the former Kempetai officer Shimizu (Ryo Kase) are as they deal with not just with the forces they’re fighting in the battlefield but also those behind the scenes. Kuribayashi and Nishi, as the latter is a former Olympic gold medalist in equestrian, are men who have been to America and are aware of what they’re capable of while coming from a very old-school idea of war as they both express their disdain for modern machinery. They’re also men who are more concerned with trying to keep soldiers to stay alive while not do something rash in the battlefield as Kuribayashi finds himself at odds with superiors who want the soldiers to fight on the battlefield against the Americans which Kuribayashi believes is suicide.

Then there’s Saigo and Shimizu as the former is a baker who learns he’s about to become a father while the latter is an officer who is in deep conflict over his loyalties as well as being accused as a spy. Upon the terror of the battle where Saigo realizes that men are killing themselves rather than die in the hands of the Americans, he tries to find some way for he and Shimizu to go to Kuribayashi who is trying to mount a final attack. Yet, the battle becomes more complicated when Lt. Ito (Shidou Nakamura) tries to launch an attack that proved to be fatal when Shimizu would later encounter an American soldier (Lucas Elliott) as it would showcase the similarities between the two men in this war. What Iris Yamashita does is bring a lot of depth to these characters while creating something where there are no villains but rather men who are put into a terrible situation.

Clint Eastwood’s direction is definitely mesmerizing for massive scope of the film as well as creating an intimacy and sense of terror of what goes on in the caves at Mount Surabachi. Using some extravagant wide shots of the locations in Iwo Jima with some of the shooting set in California, Eastwood aims for something that plays into what the Japanese were going through as they would defend this small island as Kuribayashi would scout the island and see what could help them. While Eastwood takes great advantage of the locations as well as create as sense of claustrophobia and suspense inside the caves where the men are trying to survive the assault of cannons and grenades. The battle scenes would showcase what the Japanese would do as well as some of the foolish tactics that Kuribayashi had warned his superiors about that would contribute to Japan’s loss.

The direction also has Eastwood use the wide shots to create some unique flashbacks into the world of the characters through flashbacks about their life before the war. It’s these segments where Eastwood gets the chance to humanize these characters along with scenes in the cave where the men try to survive the American onslaught. The use of close-ups and medium shots help play into the film’s intimacy inside the caves where there is a chance for these men to die with honor as well as fight for reasons beyond the call of duty. Overall, Eastwood crafts a very chilling yet astonishing film about the Japanese fighting to survive in the island of Iwo Jima.

Cinematographer Tom Stern does brilliant work with the film’s stylish cinematography with its de-saturated colors of blue and gray to play into the desolate look of the island as well as in his eerie approach to lighting for some of the film’s interior scenes in the caves as well as the nighttime exteriors. Editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach do excellent work with the editing to convey the sense of terror in the battlefield with some rhythmic cuts as well as methodical pacing to play into the suspense and drama. Production designers Henry Bumstead and James J. Murakami, with set decorator Gary Fettis, do amazing work with the design of the caves as well as trenches in the battlefield as well as the small villages on the island of Iwo Jima.

Costume designer Deborah Hooper does wonderful work with the costumes from the design of the Japanese army uniforms as well as traditional clothing the characters wear in the flashback scenes. Visual effects supervisor Michael Owens does nice work with some of the minimal visual effects such as the wide shots of the U.S. naval ships coming towards the island. Sound designer Charles Mayne, along with sound editors Alan Robert Murray and Bud Asman, does fantastic work with the sound from the way the cannon blasts are heard inside the cave as well as the sense of dread that goes on inside as the battle rages on outside of those caves. The film’s music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens is superb for its melancholic approach to the music with its use of pianos and trumpets while creating some operatic arrangements to play into the bombastic tone of the film.

The casting by Phyllis Huffman is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small roles from Mark Moses and Roxanne Hart as an American couple Kuribayashi met at a party in his honor, Lucas Elliott as an American soldier who meets Nishi during the battle, Ken Kensei and Nobumasa Sakagami as a couple of Kuribayashi’s superiors who oppose Kuribayashi’s idea to fight the Americans, Nae Yuuki as Saigo’s wife in the film’s flashback scenes, Yuki Matsuzaki as Saigo’s friend/fellow soldier Nozaki, and Takashi Yamaguchi as Saigo’s friend Kashiwara who leaves the battle due to the bad water of the island. Other noteworthy small roles include Takumi Bando as the very tough Captain Tinada who prepares everyone for what is ahead while Eijiro Ozaki is terrific as Nishi’s loyal lieutenant Okubo who would warn the soldiers about surrendering to the Americans.

Hiroshi Watanabe is wonderful as Kuribayashi’s deputy Lt. Fujita who is prepared to do whatever is necessary for his leader while Shidou Nakamura is excellent as Lt. Ito as a soldier who is baffled by Nishi and Kuribayashi’s strategy only to realize the error that he would make in battle. Tsuyoshi Ihara is amazing as the compassionate Lt. Colonel Baron Nishi who was a man who attained great fame while understanding the strategies of the Americans as he views them with great respect. Ryo Kase is brilliant as the former Kempeitai officer Shimizu who deals with his own loyalty and duty in war as his encounter with an American soldier has him deal with the cruelty of war.

Kazanuri Ninomiya is fantastic as the young soldier Saigo who is the film’s conscience as he thinks about the terror of war while being loyal to his soldiers and Kuribayashi. Finally, there’s Ken Watanabe in a magnificent performance as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi as a man who brings this balance between a leader and as a man who knows more about his soldiers than some of his officers while being a strategist who knows what the Americans are capable of. There’s a great sense of restraint and compassion in Watanabe’s performance as he brings many layers to his character as it is one of the most humanistic performances ever told in a war film.

Letters from Iwo Jima is an outstanding film from Clint Eastwood. With a cast led by Ken Watanabe as well as some amazing technical work from its crew. The film is definitely one of the great films about World War II while allowing Western audiences the chance to showcase a viewpoint that isn’t seen very often from other war films. Especially as it’s told with such sensitivity and humanity that most war films would often avoid. In the end, Letters from Iwo Jima is a phenomenally rich film from Clint Eastwood.

Clint Eastwood Films: (Play Misty for Me) - High Plains Drifter - (Breezy) - (The Eiger Sanction) - (The Outlaw Josey Wales) - (The Gauntlet) - (Bronco Billy) - (Firefox) - (Honkytonk Man) - Sudden Impact - Pale Rider - (Heartbreak Ridge) - (Bird) - (White Hunter Black Heart) - (The Rookie) - Unforgiven - (A Perfect World) - (The Bridges of Madison County) - (Absolute Power) - (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) - (True Crime) - (Space Cowboys) - (Blood Work) - (Mystic River) - Million Dollar Baby - Flags of Our Fathers - Changeling - (Gran Torino) - (Invictus) - (Hereafter) - (J. Edgar) - (Jersey Boys) - American Sniper - (Sully) - (The 15:17 to Paris) - (The Mule)

© thevoid99 2014


Dell said...

One of Eastwood's best as far as I'm concerned. Great review.

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I think Unforgiven is Eastwood's best film though this is a close 2nd.

ruth said...

Nice to see you reviewing Eastwood's films Steven. Boy this sounds like an excellent double feature to do w/ Flags of Our Father. I need to catch up on a lot of his directing works.

thevoid99 said...

@ruth-Well, I decided to do some re-writes on these 2 films as I have nothing to do and nothing to put out as I've been spending the past few days watching the World Cup.