Letters from Iwo Jima - Complications Ensue
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Saturday, September 15, 2007

The second of Clint Eastwood’s two Iwo Jima pictures, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is far more somber. It has to be — it’s from the Japanese side, and they lost the island, the battle and the war, with appalling casualties.

LETTERS is not an action movie. It’s a meditation on war — and the things men say to each other in order to force each other to keep fighting. It’s about how men forbid each other from saying that the cause is lost, or the war is futile, even though the truth is apparent to anyone with eyes. It’s about how men who love their families and their lives at home are driven by words to run into bullets. It is about how it is easier to die than it is to live.

Eastwood isn’t talking about current events, he’s talking about the Japanese in 1944. The American assault on Iwo began shortly after US naval forces destroyed the Japanese fleet as a fighting force, in what became known as The Great Marianas Turkey Shoot. The US was triumphant everywhere in the Pacific; the end was just a matter of time. The Japanese had inferior technology and less of it. As the movie shows, they were hampered by a warrior doctrine that held that retreating was dishonorable; suicide was more honorable. So a defeated force, rather than retreating, was expected to stage a suicide attack; alternately they could all blow themselves up with grenades.

Imagine being one of these guys? A baker, say, with a baby daughter you’ve never met? And the guy with the sword wants you all to kill yourselves because you can’t hold your position any more? Yeah, that’s what the movie’s about.

It’s not a date movie. Like its sister piece FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, it is a powerful indictment of war glory.

I don’t think I could make a movie like this. When I see some kid shot in a war movie, I think of my daughter, and all the trouble it’s been to raise her to three and a half years old. And how fast you can kill a kid, or a child. And I get angry at people who want to lead us into battle with words, but only as cheerleaders, from afar, from safe offices in Washington, DC.

Lincoln once said, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried out on him personally.” Who knows? Might be a good approach to war, too.

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5 Comments:

A yoga teacher once encouraged us to push our boundaries to grow and find appreciation in things where you might thought you could find it.

I'm not saying you would enjoy filming or writing such a scene, but I think from your high levels of emotion for it, you might be the most qualified to do it and do it well, well enough to maybe even affect some of the most hardened.

Pushing those irrational boundaries can be a good thing.

By Blogger The_Lex, at 8:03 PM  

pinko.

By Blogger DMc, at 8:46 PM  

Meh, I was really disappointed. There were 21,000 Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, nearly 21,000 of which died. From the movie it seemed like there were only ten, and they didn't kill a single American. According to Eastwood, the battle wasn't costly for anyone. If those few fools hadn't grenaded themselves, no one would have died.

Show me a lost cause and the people behind it. Show me the slow wait for a pointless(?) death. Show me the brunt of a Marine assault from the point of view of the hopeless defenders.
Heck, show me anything. All I saw was one guy huddling in a series of caves.

By Blogger Tom, at 1:30 AM  

Not costly? Every single Japanese guy we meet dies, but one, almost all of them onscreen. We see them shot, grenaded, flame-throwered, strafed, and blown to shreds by artillery and bombs. We also see Americans shot down, but mostly at a distance, which is how the Japanese troops would have experienced it. We see Americans shot down with machine guns, bayonetted, shot with a pistol, shot with rifles, and blown apart by mortars. I think it's interesting that you didn't feel the film showed enough combat death. I saw bloody heaps of it.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 9:04 AM  

Maybe I had trouble telling a lot of the characters apart. I only remember 4 guys dying because I only remember 4 guys at all.

And time compression was a problem once the Americans landed. Several days (or was it weeks) seemed to last half an hour of screen time.
Rather than just watching Kuriyabashi being told his troops were being crushed, we should have seen it happen ourselves.

By Blogger Tom, at 12:48 AM  

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