Friday, November 24, 2006

Letters From Iwo Jima

Clint Eastwood directing Ken Watanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima
LAT covers "Letters From Iwo Jima" the companion to "Flags of Our Fathers" which tells the story of the Japanese defense of Iwo Jima during the U.S. invasion of that island.

Directed by a 76 year old Clint Eastwood, the pair of films are unique in that they compete against each other for an Oscar, and are distributed by different studios -- and are in two different languages. "I'm now a Japanese director who does not speak Japanese," Mr. Eastwood says.

This picture recreates the conditions the Japanese fought under -- living and dying in underground tunnels -- and the heroic effort of Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi to hold the island against an overwhelming invasion. Eastwood says, "The great futility of war is explored in this picture." And, he goes on to say, "I just think you can say to a younger generation, here or anywhere, that there must be a better way to live than to send 18-year-olds to go die somewhere."

Eastwood doesn't hide his anger about war, calling the Bush administration 'naive' for 'traipsing' into Iraq thinking they could hand-deliver democracy to a country that may not have been ready to live with that system of government. He doesn't stop there; In regard to how the audience will react to 'Letters' he says, "And if they don't like it, what can they do to me? Call me an idiot? I just made it the way I thought. All I can do is put it on the screen. And if they don't like it, they can walk out and go across the hall to see 'Borat 2' or whatever."

"Flags of Our Fathers" won critical praise but did not do well at the box office. I believe this is because it was perceived as a 40s- or 50s-style Hollywood cheerleading exercise -- and some critics felt it was a bit melodramatic. "Letters From Iwo Jima" will probably not have that misinterpretation to deal with and should do better business. No matter what though, the importance of these films can't be denied. Eastwood's objectivity, especially coming so late in his career and considering his feelings about war in general, should make these two movies, taken together, one of best examinations of combat produced by Hollywood. Eastwood is just not the kind of director that utilizes cutesy dialogue or sanitized character arcs like those found in most movies, especially war movies from decades past.

When seeking permission to film on Iwo Jima, now a closed military base, Eastwood told Japanese officials and veterans what kind of movie he wanted to make. LAT reports:

"He told us he would not make a simple war movie," says Yoshitaka Shindo, Kuribayashi's grandson, who met with Eastwood to hear what Hollywood had in mind. "He said he would make a human drama about those who fought to protect their loved ones."

These two movies may be overdue. After the war the Japanese did not linger on their defeat, or review it for their children in school. The result is a blind spot in their history and a generation of Japanese who know little of their country's experience at Iwo Jima. According to LAT there has never been a Japanese movie about this battle. Of this Eastwood says, "None of my Japanese actors knew anything about Iwo Jima. You lose 21,000 people! To just ignore them. What would happen if we did that?"

"Letters From Iwo Jima" is doing great business in Japan in limited release and critics are praising this companion to "Flags of Our Fathers".

"I felt I had met my grandfather for the first time," Shindo said after watching the movie.

Complete story at LAT

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