January 30, 2012: “Letters From Iwo Jima”

January 30, 2012

I believe that as we get older we have an obligation to become better persons. In youth, we can play the “inexperience card” and mostly get away with it, but as adults, we all know better. We’ve lived life enough to know what is expected of us, we’ve committed those indiscretions of youth and hopefully have learned from them. We should carry the obligation to become better at everything we do, until time robs us of that ability.

How very interesting to have lived enough to observe an individual’s growth from the world of entertainment. Like most young American men of my generation, I was fond of the older films of Clint Eastwood. I think the overt macho, rugged individual-hero male roles he played back then, acted as some kind of weird cultural catharsis to most young men struggling with their own identity in the 70-80’s. Once and a while, I take one of these films out and honestly, now they fall a bit flat. I hope that shows my own personal growth.

I think the choices Mr. Eastwood has made the last few years reflect his own personal growth as well. I adored “Forgiven” when it came out in 1992. Will Money’s anti-hero, struggling with his bad past, trying to become a better person, was just pitch-perfect. I also liked “Gran Torino” (possibly Clint’s last acting role) which showed him as the tough and bigoted lone man, reminiscent of his earlier roles, but also showed a depth of his character as he grows to learn about and care for, the Cambodian family living next door.

I think that consideration of the “other” is also shown in Clint’s production of “Letters From Iwo Jima” which was made back-to-back with the American story of that particular conflict: “Flags of Our Father’s.” “Letters From Iwo Jima” is told from the Japanese side. With that in mind, many Americans will find “LFIJ” to be  bit uncomfortable, as it shows Americans as the invaders. Americans, in this story, are literally the “other.” Iwo Jima, in 1944 may have been a worthless volcanic piece of rock, but it was Japanese soil and this conflict was the Allies first incursion into Japan, proper. A vicious battle, Iwo Jima claimed 40,000 killed or injured men on both sides. I’ve seen some commenters labeling “LFIJ” as “revisionist” saying how evil and vicious the Japanese were during WWII. I have a first-hand account from a much-loved and trusted American man (now passed on) that atrocities were committed on both sides during this conflict. I know that is hard to hear, but I also know it to be the truth.

Although there are a number of interesting side characters in “LFIJ” the main stories surround commanding General Kuribashi (played very well by Ken Wantanabe) and reluctant baker-turned-soldier Saigo (played equally well by Japanese pop-star Kazunari Ninomiya.) The beginning of the film sets these characters well, as the “Letters’ reveal Kuribashi’s concern (at the eve of the battle of his life) to his wife that he didn’t have time to lay the kitchen floor, while Saigo writes of his concern to his wife that the hole he is digging might well be his own grave.

The story continues on. As always I don’t want to give too much away, but one caveat: this IS a war film. War is men at their worst (and rarely and remarkably, men at their best!)  Mr. Eastwood does not shy away from any viewpoint, much to his credit. I’m not so sure that “Letters From Iwo Jima” is history, per se, but it’s damn good cinema.

One lesson that “Letters From Iwo Jima” brings up is one very familiar to me;
“Do what is right because it is right.” This is pretty safe ground for me. But, the film also raises one question that continues to haunt me:  “In war, do you follow your own convictions…or your country’s?”


One comment

  1. Letters from Iwo Jima is one of my favorites! And it changed my view on Clint Eastwood, just as you described: from the macho cowboy to a wholy different person and filmmaker.

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