General Kuribayashi is sent to Iwo Jima to lead Japanese troops against an American invasion. The General soon realizes that this is a futile task, but he wants to ensure that his men do their utmost to defend the island without a needless waste of life.
Recently, I experience a certain amount of trepidation when watching a Clint Eastwood film. I admit that Eastwood has made some great movies; however, I get really annoyed when movies like his Million Dollar Baby are mistaken for great cinema. Movies whose sole purpose is to show how cruel life can be and that let their characters wallow in self- pity from one devastating event to the next are depressing, mediocre cinema
and, I might add, blatant Oscar hunting! But now I will get down off my soap box and consider his latest effort, Letters from Iwo Jima, without prejudice.
Letters from Iwo Jima is great cinema: it provides an unflinching depiction of war, does not glorify one side or the other, and implies there are no heroes, just soldiers. In fact, at times it portrays the Americans as cruel invaders with no regard for the rules of war. This movie also hammers home what an unnecessary waste of life war actually is, and how absurd it seems that, after thousands of years of human evolution, governments are still settling their differences with violence.
Apart from its moral message, there is much more to be admired in this film. The images of Iwo Jima are stark and colourless, which helps depict the bleak atmosphere that surrounds the soldiers. The use of colour does not stop there: when the soldiers are remembering happier times in their lives, the colours are vibrant and enriching. This technique has been used many times before, but not always with such great affect. The performances are also tremendous. Ken Watanabe is outstanding as the tormented and forward-thinking General, and Kazunari Ninomiya is sublime as the baker whom fate and circumstance made a soldier.
Letters from Iwo Jima will no doubt come to be considered a classic war film, and deservedly so.