Miles on Movies

Letters from Iwo Jima

reviewed by R. Miles Mendenhall

Clint does it again. This is an excellent film about normal soldiers caught up in the extraordinary state of war. That it tells the story of the epic battle from the point of view of the Japanese defenders is important. But the way it uses the letters they wrote home, as a vehicle for understanding their fears and other concerns, helps to humanize the demonized enemy and is what makes this war movie great.

While growing up I was immersed in the WWII gung ho American hero genre from Hollywood in the late 40’s through the mid 60’s. So seeing the war from the perspective of a Japanese elite officer and a Japanese grunt was long overdue.

There appeared to be one continuity glitch about two-thirds of the way through in which our drafted baker and longing husband protagonist appears in a place that seems impossible, or at least out of sequence based on the events that have just occurred. I would have to watch it again to confirm this.

I haven’t seen the companion film; “Flags Of Our Fathers” the reviews didn’t inspire me to go and I do save some films for their DVD release just so I don’t run out of things to watch at home.

One aspect of the history that I was not aware of was the role that inter-service rivalries contributed to command problems in the Japanese military. When the naval and air force officers are second-guessing the strategy and countermanding the orders of the army commander we can see one aspect of “The Fog of War” at work.

What I liked very much about this version of a “War In the Pacific” film is that it doesn’t just show us what the Japanese soldiers suffered and did, it also gives us knowledge of what motivated them. That is a rare event in the popular history of the greatest conventional fight of the twentieth century (not counting the Cold War!) and long overdue.

[To learn more about U.S. and Japan's history together, see The Asian War.]
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