Scott Marks 4:19 p.m., June 19
Letters from Iwo Jima
The second part of Clint Eastwood's Second World War diptych, the Japanese-language, Japanese-perspective counterpart to Flags of Our Fathers, an exercise in empathy whereby the filmmaker re-examines the same subject, the costly Battle of Iwo Jima, from the opposite side of the firing line. For an American production to attempt to view an American war through the eyes of the other guys — to attempt to portray the sameness, the oneness, of fighting men on whatever side — is in itself nothing new. It is, by one gauge, as old as the prototypical antiwar film, All Quiet on the Western Front, although that one, or any of its successors (A Time to Love and a Time to Die, The Blue Max, etc.), didn't attempt to do so in the other guys' native tongue. In addition to which, any number of films have attempted an internal balancing act, our side and theirs, sometimes even permitting the others to speak in their own tongues (The Young Lions, The Enemy Below, Hell in the Pacific, Tora! Tora! Tora!, etc.). More, then, than in the opposing-viewpoint angle or the foreign-language angle, the uniqueness of Letters lies in its distinction as part of a matched pair, an external balancing act if you will, sharing numerous points of intersection with Flags while sharing no actual cast members. (The momentous flag-raising on Mount Suribachi now rates as no more than a speck in the distance.) The singularity of Letters, paradoxically put, lies in its complementarity. It is much more a straightforward battle film than its predecessor, which was more a memory film of battle and had as much to do with the aftereffects as with the immediate effects, filing away the warfare as indelible mental snapshots. Too, it comes across as a bit preachier than Flags, where the filmmaker, with firmer footing on home turf, may have felt freer to let you draw your own lessons, may have felt less necessity to show his personal "understanding." Nonetheless, it offers a useful, a purposeful, a further refinement of his evolving views on violence. And if it runs the risk of collapse under the cumulative weight of his solemnity (four and a half hours over the course of two movies), the risk proves to have been a risk worth taking, a risk rewarded. Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shidou Nakamura. 2006.
— Duncan Shepherd
- Rated R
- "Balancing Act" • January 18, 2007