Letters From Iwo Jima HD DVD
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Clint Eastwood's completion of the Iwo Jima saga. Here the action is seen from the Japanese point of view and the film is based on the book 'Picture Letters from Commander in Chief' by Tadamichi Kuribayashi. The island of Iwo Jima stands between the American military force and the home islands of Japan. Therefore the Imperial Japanese Army is desperate to prevent it from falling into American hands and providing a launching point for an invasion of Japan. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) is given command of the forces on the island and sets out to prepare for the imminent attack. General Kuribayashi, however, does not favour the rigid traditional approach recommended by his subordinates, and resentment and resistance fester among his staff.
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The films centres on Iwo Jima which is an Island of Japan that the USA troops are about to attack, the film centres around the Japanese soldiers as they get ready to take on a far bigger army knowing defeat and death most face them all.
The actors are amazing as is the films direction.
The film reminded me of the recent film Assembly which is perhaps not as well polished as letters from Iwo Jima, but worth a watch If you enjoyed this Assembly 
The HD DVD is as you would expect very good, the only moan is the film has a wasted out colour theme to it (bit arty like the film 300) which didn't allow the HD format to show its true colours. Sound is amazing, the Dolby Digital was clear and bounced out of each speaker which made me duck for cover.
It is defiantly worth buying or renting in HD or Standard DVD.
The faces of His Majesty’s soldiers do not shine; they are dirty, gaunt, weary, sad, their bodies bent, thin, malnourished. Many suffer from fever, dysentery, shell shock, wounds. They are doomed, condemned, forsaken. Their letters from Iwo Jima are the only precious things left in their lives, along with photographs of the people and places they love and will never see again. As soldiers they’re not meant to cry, but in the darkness of the caves they do.
The marines wait, shelling the shore and places inland, including Suribachi. If they keep up the barrage white flags are sure to appear. They must. Who could live through this hell? But with glasses trained on Suribachi from the ships, there’s no sign of this. It’s been days. Crazy devils. How long do they intend to hold out? Why must American blood be shed to conform to their rigid battle plans? Fanatics. Stubborn fools. Violence is all they know.
So the marines, dealing with this lousy deal, are forced to invade.
Lieutenant General Kuribayashi spent time in the States before the war. He loved it there. He felt free. He loved the informal, easygoing American way. The Yanks made him laugh, put him at ease. A land of immigrants, he thought, a place where everyone is made to feel at home. An idealistic place. Yet, life is complex and so are emotions in it. He’s a patriot. He loves his country. He’s loyal to it. It has made him who he is. Despite everything, he cannot forsake it in its hour of need.
He now stands at a cave mouth on Suribachi, field glasses lifted to his eyes, looking out to sea at the gathering armada. His heart sinks. He is the commanding officer here, all those of higher rank having shipped out before him. The island is in his hands and his orders are simple, straightforward: do not surrender. The politics are unstated but clear in his mind. He knows how his overlords think. Defeat here means the end of Japan. The vengeful invaders will show no mercy as they flood north. The dominoes will fall: the Ogasawara Islands, Okinawa, the Osumi Islands, then Kyushu on the mainland. After that it’s sticks and stones, swords and bamboo arrows against the might of these barbarians (as propaganda portrays them). It’s mass suicide and the death of a nation.
Kuribayashi knows the battle cannot be won. But if his forces can inflict enough damage on the American advance, it might make American high command reconsider its plans for an overall invasion of the mainland. A desperate plan, a tactical gamble, but now in February 1945 Japan is running out of options. The only hope: the battle breaks the American spirit and leads toward some form of negotiated peace. Desperate, as stated.
The logistics of the island are bad enough (for both sides). But worse for the Japanese army is the terrible news, delayed in reaching Kuribayashi, that the combined fleet in the Marianas has been destroyed by the Americans at Saipan. Then a second body blow arrives days later. A wire from high command states that all warplanes are now being diverted to Tokyo and other parts of the mainland to protect the homeland. In other words, you’re on your own now.
The look on Kuribayashi’s face as this second piece of bad news is sinking in is complex, a mixture of fatigue, disbelief, disillusionment and despair. The death certificates of every soldier in the Imperial Japanese Army on the island are now being prepared in Tokyo. His situation is untenable, his mind near breaking point. There is only one viable option: to soldier on, do the best he can and die nobly when the moment arrives, whatever noble might mean now.
Kuribayashi is new to the job. He was flown to the island in the spring of 1944. The former commanding officer had been reassigned and Kuribayashi has arrived to take his place. Routines and orders were already in place before Kuribayashi arrived. Defensive fortifications (ditches, pillboxes, snipers’ nests) are still in the process of being constructed along beaches where the invasions are expected. This is standard island defence: confront the enemy at water’s edge. Don’t let him come ashore. But the defence of Iwo Jima won’t be standard. Kuribayashi has another plan.
The officers in charge don’t like it. Nor do they like him. But he outranks them and he must be obeyed. The Americans expect the Japanese will do things by the book. They know the mindset, the battle tactics. Kuribayashi wants to surprise them. No fortifications along the beaches, everything moved to higher ground and entrenched there, Suribachi used as a fortress or castle. It’s the only hope, he believes, for holding out during a long siege. Japanese forces on the beaches would be overwhelmed and overrun. That is suicide. Japanese strength is a pittance compared to what the marines will bring.
One inflexible officer is intransigent. He can’t accept Kuribayashi’s battle plans. The general therefore has no option but to relieve the officer of his command on Iwo Jima. He writes up orders for the officer and ships him out. Humiliated, the officer bitterly leaves, saying to others that Kuribayashi is nothing but a paper shuffler and belongs behind a desk, not commanding an army in the field. Yet that officer, irony being what it is, will escape Iwo Jima with his life, which is more than will be true for most of the Japanese soldiers left behind to defend it.
The general’s plan is to move all the artillery, mortars and machine guns to the high ground surrounding Suribachi. The beaches will be left open. Marines will pour out of their amphibians expecting fire. There will be none. When hundreds or even thousands of them are on the beach, the artillery will open fire, accompanied by the mortars, machine guns and any tanks in the Japanese arsenal that are still operative.
It’s a brutal, lethal plan, and in fact it will work. The carnage for the marines was greatest on Day One as they tried to get established on the island, all hell raining down on them.
With the beaches abandoned by the Japanese, almost the entire army was hunkered down in bunkers inside Suribachi. From the time he arrived in the spring of 1944, Kuribayashi ordered the troops to start tunnelling into the mountain. The Japanese Imperial Army on Iwo Jima was thus turned into an army of sappers and mining engineers. They worked feverishly for over nine months and incredibly dug out almost 12 miles of tunnels. Command posts, communication rooms and bunkers were built inside the catacombs. It was crude, but they made their fortress as liveable as they could. There was electricity and simple kitchens. Lookout posts were everywhere, facing the beaches and the sea. Nearly every enemy movement could be tracked. The Americans had the numbers, equipment and firepower, but the Japanese held the high ground, always important in war. Under the circumstances, Kuribayashi’s unorthodox plan bordered on genius. Because of him Iwo Jima would hold out under intense fire and shelling for over a month. High command in Tokyo wanted him to fight. He would show those desk jockeys and military bureaucrats what his troops were made of. He is in fact, by the terms of warfare, heroic. Ken Watanabe as Kuribayashi is magnificent.
Kuribayashi is calm and rational under fire. If this is a front, his troops can’t detect it. A strong resilient face is what he wants to show to his men. He’s a man of character and will draw strength from it in battle, inspiring his men.
There’s a scene earlier on in the film before the American invasion fleet has arrived. The island is calm, but of course this is just the calm before the massive storm. Kuribayashi is dining with Lieutenant Colonel Nishi, an equestrian who is also an Olympic steeplechase champion. Nishi has arrived recently with Jupiter, his beautiful black stallion. The two officers are old friends and close. Their camaraderie is evident, as they smile and laugh a lot while conversing. They share a bottle of Johnnie Walker scotch over dinner one night, a present Nishi has brought from the mainland. Their mood is light and joyous as they talk about good times in the past. But the war is always there. It won’t go away, no matter how good the Johnnie Walker tastes. The mood shifts. Nishi has something on his mind. It’s serious, some detail about the war. Nishi informs Kuribayashi of the sinking of the main Japanese fleet at Saipan. This was how he learned of it, through a back channel, not from high command itself. He looks at Nishi and says:
“So, Imperial Headquarters is deceiving not just the people but us as well.”
The unspoken meta-message is clear to both men: a rottenness runs through the entire system. How far that rot goes he dare not think. If he knew then what we know now historically, he would have shuddered and possibly had his men surrender en masse to the Americans, thus sparing his troops and the marines a bloodbath. He viewed the Emperor then as most Japanese did, as a person almost divine and above the fray of politics, including its war aims and planning. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Emperor was a part of almost every major military decision emanating from Tokyo (cf. Bix, Herbert P. “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan”, 2000). The realpolitik demands of the Americans saved his head after the war. They had other issues, other fish to fry. Hanging the Emperor of Japan as a war criminal was not on their to-do list.
The battle was awful, as expected. It lasted a total of five weeks (19 Feb.~26 March). The casualty rates were as follows: roughly 18,000 Japanese killed (90% of full strength), nearly 7,000 Americans killed (16%) and over 19,000 wounded. Only 216 Japanese soldiers surrendered, some of them accidentally (having been found knocked unconscious). Surrender, naturally, was the ultimate bushido disgrace. Few soldiers who shouted banzai with their comrades could be so treasonous. Therefore not many had the courage to think independently and follow their consciences. All things considered, one can understand it, though it heaped further tragedy on an already tragic situation. Many opted for suicide, considering it more honourable. Some were forced or coerced into it, their commanding officer aiming a gun at them. Kuribayashi emphatically stated there would be “No suicides. Every man is absolutely needed to fight, to carry on.” But some officers disobeyed his command. They felt the situation hopeless and Kuribayashi out of his depth as commander. No, this is the honourable way. The enemy shall not touch us. We’ll be dead by the time they reach our caves.
War is not only hell. It is also pitiless, the work of madness and tragedy.
Water, food and ammunition are running out. It is late March and the Imperial Army is in its death throes. It cannot hold out much longer.
The fates of Lieutenant General Kuribayashi and Lieutenant Colonel Nishi are revealed in the film, so I won’t write about them now, nor about Jupiter, Nishi’s beautiful black stallion.
Horrendous is the feeling. Not about the film of course. It’s brilliant and was nominated for several awards, winning one Oscar. What it depicts — such stupefying and appalling waste — is what turns the stomach.
As the battle was nearing its conclusion Fat Man and Little Boy were preparing to leave the West Coast, destination Tinian, a small island in the Marianas south of Saipan. It’s basically one long gravel landing strip built by the Seabees. Their second destination was the mainland of Japan. Two flights, one on August 6, the next on August 9, will end the war. But very few know now about these secret missions. Meanwhile, more carnage to come: Okinawa must be taken and it will be just as brutal as Iwo Jima was.
Hiroshima, Nagasaki and peace are buzzwords in the Japan of today and in the history textbooks found in school classrooms throughout the country. But there are many omissions, the most glaring of which is Japan’s 14-year reign of terror in Asia, an omission most Asians have not forgotten. Japan can continue to successfully lie to itself about the war and its attendant crimes, but not to the world.
The current government, run by Shinzo Abe (aka Super Mario), is a throwback in spirit to the fascism of the 1930s and ‘40s in Japan, a government intent on militarising Japan as a way of increasing its strength to solve problems in East Asia. Bad idea, Mario. That plan failed in the 1930s and ‘40s and will fail again if tried. The world has moved on since the 1940s, even if Japan hasn’t, a victim, as always, of its own myths and fantasies. Japan’s long-term future in Asia is with China, not the United States, but Japan, stuck in an archaic mindset, is still too stubborn or blind to see it.
Platoon, now Letters From Iwo Jima, are claustrophobic films that are shot entirely in a small space. I have terrible trouble concentrating on such settings for any length of time. Eastwood here, Oliver Stone with Platoon, obviously chose to make the two films in that way, lots of people rate both films highly. For me they are both beyond my attention span, I got bored in both cases, though I enjoyed Letters From Iwo Jima much more, as it has added dynamics because of the mindset of the Japanese, for example the suicides being perceived as an honourable death, which I do not appreciate or understand, in most cultures it is far more honourable to die in battle rather than to simply snuff out one's own life.
Anyway, I ended up watching it in two shifts, some days apart, in order to maintain enough concentration to watch it all. When I think about it, not a great deal actually happens in the film. Clearly some people enjoyed it a lot, so each to their own.
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