Letters from Iwo Jima appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since Flags of Our Fathers looked great, I expected similarly high quality here, and that’s what I got from this excellent transfer.
No issues with sharpness emerged. At all times, the movie seemed crisp and detailed, as I detected no signs of softness. I found no edge enhancement or shimmering, and jagged edges also looked tight. No source flaws emerged at any point.
Most of Letters went with a severely subdued palette. Really, this was almost a black and white film, as only sporadic instances of color ever popped up, and those stayed minimal. Flashbacks showed a little more vivacity, but not much; they kept within the largely monochromatic scheme. Within those constraints, everything looked fine. Blacks were deep and full, while shadows seemed clear and concise. Overall, the movie presented excellent visuals.
Along the same lines, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Letters worked exceedingly well. The soundfield proved involving and effective. Unsurprisingly, battle sequences offered the most active sections. They used all five channels well to integrate the viewer into the warfare. Elements meshed together smoothly and created a broad, seamless environment. Music showed good stereo imaging as well, and speech was accurately localized.
Audio quality seemed positive. Speech was concise and natural, with no edginess or other problems. Music sounded lively and bright, while effects were well reproduced. Those elements sounded accurate and tight, with good, deep bass response. No problems emerged during this excellent soundtrack.
Most of the package’s supplements appear on Disc Two. DVD One opens with some ads. We get promos for Flags of Our Fathers, Ocean’s 13, American Pastime and the soundtracks for Flags and Letters.
Over on DVD Two, we begin with Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters from Iwo Jima. In this 20-minute and 50-second show, we find movie clips, archival and behind the scenes materials, and interviews. We get notes from director Clint Eastwood, producer Robert Lorenz, executive producer/co-writer Paul Haggis, screenwriter Iris Yamashita, production designer James Murakami, costume designer Deborah Hopper, director of photography Tom Stern, and editor Joel Cox. We learn of the choice to make a flick about the Japanese side of the battle, the composition of the screenplay, attempts at accuracy and fictionalized elements, dealing with language barriers, locations, sets and costumes, cinematography and editing, Eastwood’s direction, and some personal reflections.
While a decent overview, “Sun” fails to provide a fill examination of the production. It touches on the appropriate subjects but lacks a lot of substance. If the DVD offered a commentary or more behind the scenes bits, this would become easier to accept, but since “Sun” stands as the main documentary of record, the lack of depth seems more problematic. It acts as a fair summary but not much more.
Next we move to The Faces of Combat: The Cast of Lettes from Iwo Jima. This 18-minute and 32-second piece features comments from Eastwood, Japanese casting associate Yumi Takada, casting associate Matt Huffman, and actors Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Ryo Kase, Tsuyoshi Ihara, and Hiroshi Watanabe. As implied by the title, “Faces” examines the movie’s actors. We find out that the Japanese knew little about the battle of Iwo Jima before their involvement in the flick. We also learn about casting, research, characters and performances.
“Faces” provides a satisfying look at the performers and their roles. It touches on enough details regarding their work to flesh out these elements, and it seems more well-rounded than “Sun”. It delves into sufficient details to succeed.
Superficial footnotes: Huffman bears a spooky resemblance to Donny Osmond. In addition, the lovely Takada lives up to her first name – she’s indeed quite yummy!
Images from the Front Line: The Photography of Letters from Iwo Jima runs three minutes, 20 seconds. This provides a montage of stills. It comes with no narration or information about these shots from the movie and the set. Why it takes this format and not still frames puzzles me. In any case, it’s a decent but not terribly fascinating collection of photos.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we locate two publicity events. The DVD presents 11/15/2006 World Premiere at Budo-kan in Tokyo (16:01) and 11/16/2006 Press Conference at Grand Hyatt Tokyo (24:27). For “Premiere”, we see cast and crew as they arrive at the event and hear some soundbites from the red carpet. We also watch a preface intended to educate the Japanese audience about events as well as some pre-film comments from various participants. We hear from Ken Watanabe, Ninomiya, Ihara, Kase, Lorenz, Yamashita, and Eastwood.
As with most programs of this sort, “Premiere” is interesting as a historical artifact, but it fails to provide much information. We don’t learn much about the movie’s creation or other aspects of its production. Again, it’s neat to have to see what it was like at the event, but I can’t imagine it has much informative or replay value.
“Conference” proves more satisfying in terms of facts and details. It features Ken Watanabe, Ninomiya, Ihara, Kase, Lorenz, Yamashita, and Eastwood. They discuss themes and goals of the project along with specifics of its creation and reactions to the final product. Occasionally we find some interesting notes, such as Eastwood’s direction of the Japanese actors, but most of the material stays pretty superficial. This is a pretty bland press conference.
Projects don’t get much more ambitious than Clint Eastwood’s pair of Iwo Jima flicks. Eastwood pulls off the trick with two satisfying war epics. Though I prefer Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima proves complex and involving on its own. The DVD offers excellent picture and audio along with a smattering of decent extras. Though I’d like to find more substantial supplements, this is a satisfactory release for a strong movie.