March 3rd: The other side of the coin

59. Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006) #194 in IMDB top 250

The second half of Clint Eastwood’s telling of the story of the battle of Iwo Jima is done from the Japanese side. Ken Watanabe plays General Kuribayashi, the man who masterminded the 40 day resistance against the unstoppable waves of American forces. This is an exceptional film for a number of reasons, it is Cint Eastwood’s only foreign language film, it has predominantly Japanese cast, it paints a sympathetic portrayal of Japanese soldiers and rather uniquely it has some tentative points of narrative crossover with Flags of our Fathers. It is a brave decision for an American film-maker to make a film that seeks to humanise and explore the Japanese experience of World War 2; I doubt that Clint Eastwood would have attempted this film 20 years ago.

I have a little knowledge about the way that the Japanese feel about their Imperial expansion. There’s a lot of shame and for a lot of Japanese there is a lack of education about it. It is almost as if there is some denial about it. There is an affirmation of this in the DVD extras as the Japanese cast members talk about their lack of knowledge about events during the war. Of course there was a government in place that suppressed any undesirable knowledge, which the loss at Iwo Jima certainly was.

I can heartily recommend Letters from Iwo Jima, it is a bitterly poignant and visceral telling of a story which can be too easily overlooked. How often do we get any history from the losing side? How often do we get English language films about the enemy from these wars? Rare exceptions exist Peckinpah’s excellent Cross of Iron being one (no, Valkyrie doesn’t count as it is essentially a resistance story).