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Friday, January 12, 2007

Letters From Iwo Jima

What is patriotism about, really? Oscar Wilde said it was the virtue of the vicious ... I'm not sure he was wrong. A movie is out that dwells on tthis question ... Letters From Iwo Jima, made by Clint Eastwood.

The film is based on the books Picture Letters from Commander in Chief by Tadamichi Kuribayashi, (played by Ken Watanabe of The Last Samurai in Eastwood's movie) and Sadness in Dying Gracefully by Kumiko Kakehashi. As Wikipedia says ...

The film tells the story of the invasion of Iwo Jima during World War II from the Japanese viewpoint, as opposed to the American viewpoint depicted in Flags of Our Fathers [another Eastwood film[. The story follows that of the Japanese commander, Army General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (who must organize the defense of the isolated and unsupported forces), of his good friend Lt. Colonel Takeichi Nishi (former comrade in the cavalry and 1932 Olympic gold-medalist), and of the ordinary soldiers, especially young draftee Private Saigo (who only wants to get back to his wife and new-born child back in mainland Japan.) The men write letters home, not knowing if they will ever go home or if their letters will ever even be read, as the fighting, deprivation, death, and misery take their toll ..... On December 6th, 2006, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named Letters from Iwo Jima the best film of 2006. On December 10th, 2006 the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named Letters from Iwo Jima Best Picture of 2006 ....

My grandfather served in WWII and thought of the Japanese as enemies. Yet my sister has spent 7 years in Japan teaching English, and I was briefly married to a Japanese American, whose grandparebnts immigrated to the US, whose parents spent time here in a relocation camp. Everythingg's mixed up. And that's what Eastwood does with his movies, Letters From Iwo Jima, and its companion Flags of Our Fathers. ... one shows the pov of the Japanese, one shows the pov of the US, and the virtue of patriotism is reletive. Here below is part of the New York Times movie review - Blurring the Line in the Bleak Sands of Iwo Jima ....

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There are certain assumptions that American audiences, perhaps without realizing it, are likely to bring to a movie about World War II. The combat picture has been a Hollywood staple for so long — since before the actual combat was over — that it can sometimes seem as if every possible story has already been told. Or else as if each individual story, from G.I. Joe to Private Ryan, is at bottom a variation on familiar themes: victory against the odds, brotherhood under fire, sacrifice for a noble cause.

But of course there are other, contrasting stories, a handful of which form the core of “Letters From Iwo Jima,” Clint Eastwood’s harrowing, contemplative new movie and the companion to his “Flags of Our Fathers,” which was released this fall. That film, partly about the famous photograph of American servicemen raising the flag on the barren volcanic island of Iwo Jima, complicated the standard Hollywood combat narrative in ways both subtle and overt. It exposed the heavy sediment of individual grief, cynicism and frustration beneath the collective high sentiments of glory and heroism but without entirely debunking the value or necessity of those sentiments.

“Letters,” which observes the lives and deaths of Japanese soldiers in the battle for Iwo Jima, similarly adheres to some of the conventions of the genre even as it quietly dismantles them. It is, unapologetically and even humbly, true to the durable tenets of the war-movie tradition, but it is also utterly original, even radical in its methods and insights ....

This is not only because the Japanese actors, speaking in their own language, give such vivid and varied performances, but also because the film, in its every particular, seems deeply and un-self-consciously embedded in the experiences of the characters they play. “Letters From Iwo Jima” is not a chronicle of victory against the odds, but rather of inevitable defeat. When word comes from Imperial headquarters that there will be no reinforcements, no battleships, no air support in the impending fight with the United States Marines, any illusion of triumph vanishes, and the stark reality of the mission takes shape. The job of these soldiers and their commanders, in keeping with a military ethos they must embrace whether they believe in it or not, is to die with honor, if necessary by their own hands.

The cruelty of this notion of military discipline, derived from long tradition and maintained by force, is perhaps less startling than the sympathy Mr. Eastwood extends to his characters, whose sacrifices are made in the service of a cause that the American audience knows to be bad as well as doomed. It is hard to think of another war movie that has gone so deeply, so sensitively, into the mind-set of the opposing side ....

A few scenes serve as hinges joining this movie to “Flags of Our Fathers.” While “Letters From Iwo Jima” seems to me the more accomplished of the two films — by which I mean that it strikes me as close to perfect — the two enrich each other, and together achieve an extraordinary completeness. They show how the experience of war is both a shared and a divisive experience, separating the dead from the living and the winners from the losers, even as it binds them all together.

Both films travel back and forth in time and space between Iwo Jima and the homelands of the combatants. In “Flags of Our Fathers” the battle itself happens mainly in flashback, since the movie is in large measure about the guilt and confusion that survivors encountered upon their reluctant return home. In “Letters From Iwo Jima” the battle is in the present tense, and it is home that flickers occasionally in the memories of men who are certain they will not live to see it again.

8 Comments:

Blogger david said...

Hello Crystal. Interesting reflection on the two films -- which makes me want to rent the DVDs because I would not normally have bothered with movies like this. I loved Private Ryan -- but wouldn't see it again. When I'm looking for WWII nostalgia fix I go for 3 on a match or guns of navaronne. But it sounds like Eastwood is producing some depth stuff.

BTW. You have some coding issues on thsis ight (unless its my browser) -- the background is making it really hard to read the text. I had to switch my browser to "no styles" to kill the background in order to read this. I've never had that problem here before.

4:46 AM  
Blogger david said...

Sorry -- ignore my comment on the browsing. Becasue you page is normal again. Must be a glitch in my browser.

4:50 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi David,

the page always looks grey to me, because I have my browser set to over ride everything else - makes it easier to see.

I haven't been to visit the scripture page for a while ... to be honest, I was thinking you guys would not miss me?

10:47 AM  
Blogger david said...

You're always welcome. Larry has been kinda inactive too. Forrest is posting the bible passages now.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

I'm really looking forward to seeing this film. I think Clint Eatswood is a very good director and will handle it well. I looked forward to seeing The Thin Red Line when that came out, but I was very disappointed by it.

'Flags of our Fathers' was a very powerful book. When we look at the 3,000 American troops killed in Iraq, it is very sobering to recall that over 6,800 Americans were killed on this tiny island alone, and many, many more Japanese. What a horrible time that must have been.

8:20 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Jeff,

yes, those numbers provide some perspective. I really like Clint Eastwood - when I think of him, I envision him singing in Paint Your Wagon - hee hee :-)

8:38 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"I don't think that's funny... you laughin'. See, my mule doesn't like laughin'.. He gets the crazy idea that you're laughin' at him. Now, if you apologize, like I know you're going to, I might just be able to convince him that you didn't mean it..."
Fistful of Dollars

I loved him in Paint Your Wagon and as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide, in the days before he knew how to act.

4:43 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Ha :-) .... he can be scary ...

I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

11:01 AM  

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