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Letters from Iwo Jima
The companion to Flags of Our Fathers
Letters from Iwo Jima
A Scene from "Letters from Iwo Jima".
DOMESTIC TOTAL: $42,000,000
OTHER PREVIEWS: Alatriste (7/10)
  This Film is NOT a Future Release.
  The Following Preview has been Archived.

September 29th, 2006: Letters From Iwo Jima is a recreation of the events that transpired during the American invasion of Iwo Jima during World War II, as told from the Japanese perspective. In February of 1945, some 22,000 Japanese troops defended the island against the overwhelming American forces that outnumbered them nearly five to one. Like a memoir, the film will follow the personal stories of two close friends serving in the Japanese army as they fight for survival throughout the battles and are forced to watch helplessly as their closest comrades succumb to unavoidable deaths. The story will also revolve around real-life Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), who continued to defend the island with his forces even as the fighting drew close to its inevitable conclusion.

What to Expect: The majority of the story comes from the many letters that General Tadamichi Kuribayashi wrote to his family about his fate on the island. He was a fascinating figure and well worth discussing for the purpose of establishing exactly what Letters From Iwo Jima will attempt to touch upon. Kuribayashi was an aristocrat of samurai descent, who traveled quite extensively throughout his life. As a deeply devoted family man, he would spend as much time with his loved ones as possible and always wrote them from his many travels. He received part of his education in Canada and beginning in 1928, he actually spent a couple of years as a military attaché in Washington D.C. During his time there, he traveled quite extensively across the country and grew to know and respect America and its people. He eventually became the Lieutenant General in the Imperial Japanese Army and was chosen as the commander of the Japanese garrison at Iwo Jima.

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Being quite familiar with America’s advanced industrial capabilities, he opposed the war, but was still committed to his duty even against the overwhelming odds. Without any air or naval support and knowing that he and his men were probably destined to perish, he was still determined to make the battle as difficult as possible for the United States. Having studied prior American attacks, he decided against any serious defense of the beaches and instead focused on fighting almost entirely underground. He symbolically instructed his troops that each man should kill 10 Americans before getting himself killed. They fought to the bitter end, and of the 22,000 that started, only 296 surrendered and a total of 1,083 survived to be captured. On March 23rd, when defeat was imminent, Kuribayashi is believed to have committed suicide, although his body was never found. A few days after his death, the United States had declared victory in the region, but Kuribayashi and his troops will always be remembered for their heroic defense against the much stronger American force.

Director Clint Eastwood hired Japanese-American screenwriter Iris Yamashita specifically for this film. Although he had Oscar winner Paul Haggis secured for Flags of Our Fathers, the first part of this two-piece set, he still decided to go with a relative unknown for the second part, proving that he wanted a new and authentic voice to help him tell this story from the Japanese perspective. Of course, for anyone who may not be aware, Flags of Our Fathers looks at the Battle of Iwo Jima from the American viewpoint. But Eastwood has said that he is making Letters From Iwo Jima with the Japanese people in mind. Fittingly, the film will be subtitled with the majority of the dialogue spoken in Japanese. Most of the actors are also of Japanese descent and are practically unknown to the American theatergoing public, with the exception of Ken Watanabe, whom many may be familiar with from movies like The Last Samurai and Batman Begins. The Oscar nominated actor is also probably the only one to have a prominent role in both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima. Needless to say, as far as Hollywood productions go, the film and its companion represent quite an ambitious and audacious undertaking. I suppose that it takes such powerful people as Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, who is one of the producers on both films, to have a project of this magnitude made.

The recent Japanese trailer advertises both films as one and it is practically impossible to discern between the two, which may be intentional. From the footage it is clear that Eastwood has chosen the gritty, saturated, washed-out look that other war films like Saving Private Ryan have made so popular a choice a few years back. To recreate the characteristic black sand beaches of Iwo Jima, much of the filming took place in Iceland, although the majority of that footage is said to appear in Flags of Our Fathers. Shockingly, Letters From Iwo Jima has a very small $15 million budget, which seems like quite an impressive feat considering that many pictures of comparable scale now cost 10 to 20 times as much. Since much of the fighting is said to take place in mine shafts, caves, and tunnels, it may have helped in avoiding the hefty prices associated with staging grandiose open-field battle sequences. Stylistically, the decision to film within such dark and claustrophobic confines may be more interesting anyway.

It appears that there is far more mystery surrounding Letters From Iwo Jima than there is around Flags of Our Fathers. Less is known about it in general and there has not been much marketing for it at this point. From the beginning, this film was expected to be ready for a December opening so that both features were eligible for the Oscars next year, but no official release date has been announced yet. I’m still curious to see if it will actually be ready in time. Originally, the film was called Red Sun, Black Sand, which is arguably a much more intriguing and brooding title compared to the somewhat clichéd Letters From Iwo Jima. On the other hand, the new title matches the title of its counterpart more closely and seems to imply a similar somberness. After all, the two features will probably complement each other both thematically and stylistically. It appears that Letters From Iwo Jima may focus much more on the battle itself, while Flags of Our Fathers looks deeply at some of its after effects. Both, however, are going to be highly poetic and introspective pictures.

In Conclusion: Even more so than Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima does not seem like much of an audience pleaser, but it may be Eastwood’s most challenging undertaking yet. Given the film’s language and the lack of familiar Hollywood stars, I would not expect it to draw in major numbers at the box office, unless Flags of Our Fathers does all the marketing for it by enticing viewers to see more. This epic is sure to generate some buzz during the Oscar season and personally I find it to be the more intriguing of the two, but the more conventional ‘Flags’ will probably steal the spotlight.

Similar Titles: The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, The Seven Samurai
December 20th, 2006 (limited)
May 22nd, 2007 (DVD)

Warner Bros. Pictures

Clint Eastwood

Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shido Nakamura

Total: 105 vote(s).

Drama, War/Western

Click here to view site

Rated R for graphic war violence







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