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Action - Letters From Iwo Jima

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Letters From Iwo Jima
Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Japanese with English subtitles
Warner Home Video 2007
140 minutes

Letters From Iwo Jima is a far superior war movie DVD to its companion Flags of Our Fathers. For one you can actually follow the story and identify characters. Although director Clint Eastwood received a lot of praise for Flags of Our Fathers I was totally unable to get through more than thirty minutes of the American side of the battle for Iwo Jima and Lord knows I like a good war epic. There were too many flashbacks, flash forwards, flashsomethings, too many characters in the same story at the same time, and too much stuff going on. I know I was supposed to follow the story of the guys who raised the flag but I found it hard to figure out who was who on the battlefield.

Letters From Iwo Jima, in Japanese with English subtitles is on the other hand a very interesting and well-made war movie DVD. Instead of going for the fancy stuff like he did in Flags, Eastwood uses the basic elements of good war story telling: you follow a general, played by Ken Watanabe, a couple of grunts including a Sad Sack named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a soldier who won Olympic gold, and a bad and evil captain. It tells the story of the Japanese army's preparation for the attack and of how General Kuribayashi prepared for the attack with a tunnel digging plan his colleagues did not approve of.

Letters From Iwo Jima, in spite of being in Japanese is a much more interesting and riveting war movie than Flags simply because the viewer can actually follow the story and identify with the characters. The simple fact there are not many World War Two movies told from the Japanese point of view might be enough to make this DVD interesting to war movie fans but since it is a well-told and generally well-made movie the set-up is not that important.

Most fascinating about Letters From Iwo Jima is the viewer discovers a bit about Japanese society of that period. This is done so you never feel there is a history lesson being taught and feels more like background material to support the characters and their story.

This just adds to this fascinating tale of the Japanese experience at Iwo Jima. There are some surprises in this movie, some rather funny and some quite sad moments, and a few very weird characters. There is a lot in this movie about the dying with honor kamikaze code and Eastwood humanizes it and makes it interesting.

I suspect Eastwood is also having a bit of fun in Letters From Iwo Jima. The Hollywood cliché is that a soldier who shows or looks at a picture of his loved one is doomed: many of the Japanese soldiers in Letters do so. I am less impressed with the beginning of the movie where some Japanese historians uncover something in an Iwo Jima cave and this is what causes the story to be told. The way that scene is shot is simply messy and the suspense of what they found and the reveal a little too cutesy.

Letters From Iwo Jima DVD is an excellent war movie. It comes in a 2 DVD set. The second DVD is where all the extra features such as the making of are. I wish there had been a director's commentary track or something but then again they are usually pretty useless stuff most of the time so I probably am not missing much.

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