Sixty-one years ago, US and Japanese armies met on Iwo Jima. Decades later, several hundred letters are unearthed
from that stark island's soil. The letters give faces and voices to the men who fought there, as well as the
extraordinary general who led them. The Japanese soldiers are sent to Iwo Jima knowing that in all probability they will
not come back. Among them are Saigo, a baker who wants only to live to see the face of his newborn daughter; Baron
Nishi, an Olympic equestrian champion known around the world for his skill and his honor; Shimizu, a young former
military policeman whose idealism has not yet been tested by war; and Lieutenant Ito, a strict military man who would
rather accept suicide than surrender. Leading the defense is Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, whose travels in
America have revealed to him the hopeless nature of the war but also given him strategic insight into how to take on
the vast American armada streaming in from across the Pacific. With little defense other than sheer will and the
volcanic rock of the island itself, Gen. Kuribayashi's unprecedented tactics transform what was predicted to be a quick
and bloody defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat. Almost 7,000 American soldiers were killed on
Iwo Jima; more than 20,000 Japanese troops perished. The black sands of Iwo Jima are stained with their blood, but
their sacrifices, their struggles, their courage and their compassion live on in the letters they sent home. From
Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood comes the untold story of the Japanese soldiers and their General who defended
against the invading American forces on the island of Iwo Jima.
For more about Letters from Iwo Jima and the Letters from Iwo Jima Blu-ray release, see Letters from Iwo Jima Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on September 22, 2007 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Clint Eastwood's Japanese perspective of the battle of Iwo Jima is like a
cloud. In shifting shades of foreboding and despondence, the film delivers
an account of events with the action of a war epic, the detail of a
documentary and the emotional impact of a drama. Collectively, the
experience of the Japanese troops takes on many forms. Some characters,
including the leader, Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), are
too complex to pin down firmly. Others, like the bumbling Saigo (Kazunari
Ninomiya), are motivated only to return to their family and care nothing for
the war or their superiors. From idealistic honor to bitter defeat to
heartbroken fatalism, the spirit of the soldiers is given life decades after
the war from the words they wrote on Iwo Jima. Using the troops' handwritten
letters as a vehicle for his film, Eastwood attempts to focus his lens on
the humanity of a battle that was inhuman.
General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), whose charter was to defend Iwo Jima against American
forces, finds himself facing a superior military.
Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, the Japanese forces on Iwo Jima were concerned less
with how to win than with how to die. Once mainland Japan
leadership established that no reinforcements, tanks or planes could be
spared in the defense of Iwo Jima, Kuribayashi and his men knew that the battle was essentially
a suicide mission. Eastwood shows in brutal
detail that the Japanese code of honor led many troops to pull their grenade
pins and hold the explosive charges against their chests with grisly
results. Other soldiers engaged in banzai missions at the command of
their leaders. While those offensive tactics were largely effective against
the poorly trained Chinese forces Japan faced earlier in the war, the US
military made short work of the charging Japanese soldiers. Still, Letters
from Iwo Jimo shows how the Japanese dug in to the island's rugged terrain
to inflict maximum damage to the Americans.
At many points, the film dovetails with Flags of Our Fathers, Eastwood's
sister production that portrays the war from the U.S. soldiers' perspective. In fact, both films
were shot at the same time to make use of closely linked scenes.
But where Flags of Our Fathers was mostly unsuccessful in establishing a
strong emotional bond between the audience and the soldiers, Saigo was the
key to the power of Letters from Iwo Jima. Through Saigo, the audience
experienced not only the overall horror endured by Japanese forces, but also
the moments of humanity. Saigo was the one character guided purely by human
instincts and not by Japan's reckless chain of command. What the movie
doesn't show is that Japan badly terrorized the people of China, the
Philippines and other Asia/Pacific countries in the most inhuman ways
imaginable. Iwo Jima was America's stepping stone--a key strategic base to
eventually put a stop to Japan's war machine. And that is why the battle of
Iwo Jima, in spite of its barren locale, was a critical front in the war and
a worthy focal point in history.
Warner's BD-50 features a VC-1 codec and an aspect ratio of 2.4:1. Eastwood
opted for a more subdued look for the film, toning down vibrant colors for a
homogenous feel common to several recent war movies that make use of
computer-generated images, including Flags of Our Fathers. Very few scenes
in either movie included digital images--the landing of U.S. forces on the
island being one notable exception. That scene is dramatic in demonstrating
the scale of the assault, with dozens of battleships offshore and amphibious
assault vehicles coming onshore. The resolution was not only impressive but
absolutely essential in showing the invasion in this brief scene. It harkens
back to the much longer, famous scene in Saving Private Ryan, when U.S.
forces stormed Omaha Beach. Indeed, the film treatment was similar and not
surprisingly Steven Spielberg coproduced the film with Eastwood. NTSC could
simply not resolve the individual U.S. soldierss invading the beach of Iwo
Jima from the camera's vantage point.
Contrast and black level are excellent, and the detail adds to the stark
realism of the production. Much of the action takes place at night and in
dimly lit caves dug into the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima. I noticed no
pixelation or artifacts in black areas of the screen and overall the picture
was remarkably "undigital", as if coming from a projector. During one
most haunting scenes in the film, as Saigo defies the general's orders and
buries the letters rather than burns them, watch the detail and crisp
accuracy of the picture as it ranges from shadow to light--even smoke is
resolved with stunning clarity. The resolution lends itself to microdetail
and Eastwood's characters and landscapes deliver an endless supply of
interesting visual cues. However, if you are looking for reference-quality
vibrance, depth and realism, Letters from Iwo Jima falls short.
With no LPCM track, the film falls short of audio reference quality
as well. The Dolby TrueHD Japanese 5.1 delivers convincing, detailed vocals,
explosions, small arms sounds and plane engine roar, but lacks that open,
ultrarealistic soundstage audiophiles crave. With no English track, the
subtitles become especially important, but it is instructive to hear the
officers' commands and dialog in Japanese, and the chants of "banzai,
banzai, banzai". The audio engineering makes excellent use of surrounds and
The special features included on the BD-50 are very impressive. Red Sun
Black Sand is a making-of documentary that, like all the supplementary content, also appears on
the DVD version. Here it is upgraded to high definition and proves a worthy companion to the film,
with important interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Next is a featurette on the cast, entitled
"The Faces of Combat". Rounding out the content is a collection of photographs, the November
2006 world premiere coverage at Budo-kan in Tokyo and the corresponding press conference, as
well as a theatrical trailer.
The emotional power of Letters from Iwo Jima lies in its underlying message that Japanese
soldiers and American soldiers were cut from the same cloth. When the Japanese forces take a
wounded American prisoner, a letter from his mother is found in his pocket. General Kuribayashi
translates the letter into Japanese as he reads it aloud to his men. In a moment of disarming
honesty, one of the Japanese soldiers who previously demonized the Americans confides in Saigo
that this letter is exactly what any of their mothers would write. The general even uses the
words of the concerned American mother in guiding his troops near the end.
When the letters of the Japanese troops are finally discovered and dug up by analysts studying
the battle site, we hear a flood of voices earnestly reading the words. The sound of all the
messages merging is overwhelming and Eastwood wants us to realize that each of the men who
died defending Iwo Jima for Japan had a story and a family back home, just like the U.S. soldiers.
The danger of this type of emotional message is the same danger Hollywood runs into whenever
it shows the human side of inhuman battles and forces. Japan committed war crimes so horrific,
China and the Philippines have yet to fully recover. It was in the shadow of this violence that
America made the difficult decision to force Japan to surrender by using atomic bombs.
Blu-ray bundles with Letters from Iwo Jima (3 bundles)
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