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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review for "Letters"--I'd suggest getting the four disc edition as the two special editions compliment each other, 21 May 2007
This review is from: Flags of our Fathers & Letters from Iwo Jima (4 Disc Special Edition) [DVD] (DVD)
A complimentary film to "Flags of Our Fathers", "Letters from Iwo Jima" uses many of the same techniques (including flashbacks during sequences where the soldiers are reading letters from loved ones or where they are thinking of events that occurred prior to their being stationed on the sparsely populated resource poor island) as that film but manages to touch on the personal much better than "Flags". Perhaps its Eastwood's perspective as an outsider to Japanese culture that made him more attuned as a director to these characters in "Letters" either way this film manages to get under the skins of the various characters much more successfully than "Flags" did. Although not as complex in terms of technique, "Letters" is every bit as complex emotionally as its companion piece. Perhaps the less complex storytelling structure allows Eastwood to dig a big deeper under the surface of these characters either way the two films when seen together are much richer than either one alone.

Focusing much of its time on Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) a young reluctant recruit and the Japanese Commander Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) who must try and hold Iwo Jima with limited resources and no support from Japan, the film tells their desperate attempt to hold the island despite their bleak chances of success at fighting the massive American contingent arriving by sea and air. Eastwood manages to convey the fear, doubt and bravery of these soldiers as they tunnel into the mountainside of Iwo Jima taking an unconventional defense tactic which given the massive forces they face is the only chance that they have for success. Holding out for almost six weeks against superior fire and man power, Kuribayashi and his troops beat the odds putting up a heroic fight against a technological and resource superior adversary. Eastwood doesn't sugar coat the battle or the difficulties that both sides face in either film and doesn't glorify the cost of war. World War II may have been the last noble war that the United States was involved in but that doesn't make the cost of war noble or acceptable. There are always heroes on both sides of the battle regardless of whose ideology was right and on the field of battle there isn't right or wrong--just a desperate attempt to fight for your own survival amid the larger concerns that exist outside a small island in the South Pacific Ocean.

Like "Flags", "Letters" looks extremely good in its transfer to DVD. The muted color scheme and look of the film add to the vividness as well as sense of reality that is essential to recreate the world from 60 plus years ago. Audio brilliantly conveys the ambiance of the island and the heat of battle with well placed sound effects. A warning for those expecting another war film in English--this is presented (with the exception of a few scenes) in Japanese since that's what the soldiers spoke. The film is subtitled in English with Spanish and French subtitles available as well.

Unlike "Flags", "Letters" appears as a "special edition" from the get-go. While we don't get a commentary track (Eastwood has shied away from doing a commentary track for years and its probably just as well since he's a man of few but well chosen words), we get a number of terrific extras on the second disc. "Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of `Letters from Iwo Jima'" is a terrific documentary on the making of the film allowing Eastwood and his team to discuss what drove them to create this companion piece and the complex challenges of filming two very similar films from different perspectives back-to-back.

"The Faces of War" presents the cast introducing and discussing the characters they play in the film. For me it was the second most interesting extra here since even though familiar with military history often do not see the individual faces of the "enemy". Since history is often written by the victory of any battle, these individuals who fought for their country with as much passion as the Allies did for theirs are often overlooked and forgotten.

Perhaps Eastwood's two epics would have fared better at the Oscars if they had been presented theatrical as one epic film since the two require each other as counterpoints. Either way, the two together have much more impact than either alone although of the two I found "Letters" to be the more compelling piece simply because we saw a side we rarely see if films about World War II focusing on the enemy. Watching the two films back-to-back was an exhausting experience but ultimately more rewarding for me since they dovetail quite nicely in their examination of the personal cost of war on the people who actually fight it and don't glorify the horrors of war. Eastwood continues to show amazing growth and talent as a film director proving that director's careers don't necessarily have to burn brightly and fade away as many of our top talents have.
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Location: My Little Blue Window, USA

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