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More than 60 years after the battle on Iwo Jima, Japanese historians discover a buried sack of letters written by the Japanese soldiers on the island, which were never sent. Among the soldiers are Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a baker with a young wife and new baby at home; Baron Nishi (Tsuyshi Ihara), the Olympic equestrian; Shimizu (Ryo Kase) a former military policeman; and Lt Ito (Shidou Nakamura), who would rather suicide than surrender. Their leader is Lt. General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), a traveled and sophisticated man, who is mistrusted by some of the officers around him. But his strategy makes it much harder for the massive US war machine to capture the island, and amidst the brutal battles, the soldiers pen their letters for home in hope.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With his second film about the WWII battle of Iwo Jima (shot back to back with Flags of Our Fathers), Clint Eastwood has succeeded in showing us the two enemy armies (US and Japan) as simply two sets of soldiers, each human, each fighting in a futile, often brutal war. If Flags was also about the tragic racist attitudes of the times in America, Letters is also about the tragic deception practiced by the Japanese high command on their own commanders. But those admonishments are too little, too late, and this film's primary purpose is to humanise the Japanese even as they machine gun the advancing American soldiers. What better way to ridicule war - albeit without the humour. Indeed, the film is frequently gruelling, just like the noisy and terrifying reality.

The device of presenting individuals through their letters written at the front is valid enough, as anyone who has seen Tolga Ornek's powerful doco, Gallipoli (2005) will know. But where Ornek allowed the letters to become the primary source of the all important voices, Eastwood limits their use to such minimal effect that it serves only to make the film seem mawkish. (Nor is the bookend scene with the discovery of the letters handled credibly, Eastwood opting instead for a cinematic flourish for the closer.)

Primarily, Eastwood uses other means to humanise the Japanese soldiers, and while much of this is effective, the result is a film often pausing for moments of establishment between fierce fighting scenes, making it play more episodic than it really is. Still, the performances are all superb, with Ken Watanabe (surely Japan's Gregory Peck) delivering a sympathetic and unpredictably humanistic commander - so much so we wonder at the character's accuracy. The diverse characteristics of Japanese soldiers - representing the variety of the nation's community- are conveyed with economy, and the direction of both action and static moments is fluent. Drawn to a couple of the soldiers through the intimacy of their stories, we are not so keen to see them shot by the US Marines as we were when we were taken inside the US ranks with Flags.

This is perhaps Eastwood's major accomplishment, especially if the film has the same effect on US audiences; sadly, it can't wind back the clock and stop the war, but it may, even if only for a couple of hours, make some of us contemplate how to avoid making the same mistakes again.

On DVD, Clint Eastwood takes an inside look at the creation of the film with many of the key players involved who brought this epic film together; including why it was important to tell both sides of the same story.

Published July 4, 2007

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(US, 2006)

CAST: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomya, Shido Nakamura, Tsuyoshi Iyara, Ryo Kase, Yuki Matsuzaki, Hiroshi Watanabe, Takumi Bando, Nobusama Sagakami, Takashi Yamaguchi, Nae Yuuki

PRODUCER: Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Robert Lorenz

DIRECTOR: Clint Eastwood

SCRIPT: Iris Yamashita (with Paul Haggis; book by Tadamichi Kuribayashi)


EDITOR: Joel Cox ACE, Gary D. Roach

MUSIC: Clint Eastwood

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Henry Bumstead, James J. Murakimi

RUNNING TIME: 241 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 22, 2007

PRESENTATION: widescreen

SPECIAL FEATURES: The Making of Letters from Iwo Jima - Clint Eastwood takes an inside look at the creation of the film with many of the key players involved who brought this epic film together; including why it was important to tell both sides of the same story and the importance that Letters From Iwo Jima be the companion film to[BREAK]Flags of Our Fathers; Theatrical Trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Warner Home Video

DVD RELEASE: July 4, 2007

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