On the Shoulders of Soldiers
Letters from Iwo Jima
Review by Ross Anthony

A brave film. Especially, in war time, when a director chooses to make a 2+ hour film from the perspective of the enemy, in the language of the enemy (no less), one has to applaud. Of course, some will shout “unpatriotic.” Perhaps, had this film been made 60 or so years earlier, Clint would have been dismissed as a traitor by many an American. Some may still see it that way today – they should see this film.

Clint’s point is well made. It isn’t “unpatriotic” to sympathize with the “enemy” soldier. Because the word “enemy” itself is much more foreign than the soldier of another country. Such rhetoric often originates from the very few in power. The very few who seldom put themselves in danger. The soldiers in the field, though from two countries, from two cultures with two very different languages have much more in common with each other than they do with the leaders of their respective countries.

“War is young men dying and old men talking.” Odysseus says to Achilles in the 2004 film Troy. And that’s a significant theme of “Letters from Iwo Jima.” Those with power use words like “enemy,” “honor,” “unpatriotic” and then they use the lives of 18-year-olds to pay for their follies. Is not the globe too small for this kind of thing? Is not life too precious for this kind of thing? Is not an 18-year-old an 18-year-old whether white, yellow, black, red?

War has been a problem throughout history. Why is it not yet extinct? Certainly, self-defense to any attack is a reaction difficult to dispute. But why are there attacks in the first place? What makes a war just or legal or morally sound? And who is responsible for that decision? We civilians are understandably fearful to make that decision. And even more afraid to give that right to the soldier. But how better to honor our troops than by letting them decide? Who could possibly be more deserving of that decision than those putting their lives on the line?

In this film, a young soldier by the name of Saigo struggles to make sense of this huge obligation. In fact, his superiors, knowing the battle is a virtual suicide mission, command, “You are not allowed to die until you kill 10 Americans.”

In a documentary called Verdict on Auschwitz ,” Josef Klehr stated in his defense, “As a subordinate soldier I had no other choice and had to comply to the order. I did not determine the fate of these poor people.” In 1965 he was sentenced to life in prison. Hans Stark, also on trial then, stated rather genuinely, “I participated in many peoples’ deaths. Following the war, I often asked myself if this made me a criminal, but I have failed to find a valid answer for myself. I believed in the Fuhrer. I wanted to serve my people.” He was sentenced to ten years in prison – according to that documentary.

If soldiers are held accountable for their actions even when following orders, then shouldn’t they be expected to make that tough decision – “is it I acting in self-defense, or is the ‘enemy?’” It’s a brave act to step on a battlefield, no one would argue. But could it also be seen as a brave act to step away from one?

US soldier Lt. Ehron Watada recently reflected on the war in Iraq and decided that it was in the best interest of his country’s constitution and fellow soldiers if he stepped away from that battle. His court martial trial begins Feb 5, 2007. If you don’t have 2+ hours to see Clint’s movie, you’ll get a similar themed soldier’s perspective on war in Watada’s 3 minute YouTUBE Video.

“Letters from Iwo Jima” starts strong, earning our respect and sympathy, but then dilutes itself with an unfocused, rather dry, second half and two terribly hokie film moments. One of the moments occurs at the very end with the actual letters falling in fake slow motion to the voices of the soldiers who had written them. The other moment depicts a likeable officer with a blindfold, but plays like a scene from an old John Wayne movie. Nonetheless, this film is still worth seeing; just walk out after the first half.

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  • Letters from Iwo Jima. Copyright © 2006.
  • Starring Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shidou Nakamura, Hiroshi Watanabe, Takumi Bando, Yuki Matsuzaki.
  • Directed by Clint Eastwood.
  • Screenplay by Iris Yamashita. Based on the book by Tadamichi Kuribayashi.
  • Produced by Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Robert Lorenz at WarnerBros/DreamWorks/Malpaso/Amblin.

Grade..........................B (2/4)


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Copyright © 1998-2016 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at HollywoodReportCard.com, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: www.RossAnthony.com or call 1-800-767-7186. Check out his other sites too: Author*Illustrator*Speaker, Motobookothon 2009, M9, Write Triangle, TwT. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.


Last Modified: Monday, 29-Jan-2007 14:23:20 PST