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Clint Eastwood
Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase, Shido Nakamura, Hiroshi Watanabe, Takumi Bando
Writing Credits:
Iris Yamashita (and story), Paul Haggis (story), Tadamichi Kuribayashi & Tsuyoko Yoshido (book, "Picture Letters from Commander in Chief")

Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima tells the untold story of the Japanese soldiers who defended their homeland against invading American forces during World War II. With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima itself, the unprecedented tactics of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) and his men transform what was predicted to be a swift defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat. Their sacrifices, struggles, courage and compassion live on in the taut, gripping film Rolling Stone calls "unique and unforgettable." It is the powerful companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Opening Weekend
$122.548 thousand on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross
$13.753 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 140 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 5/22/2007

• “Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters from Iwo Jima” Featurette
• “The Faces of Combat: The Cast of Lettes from Iwo Jima” Featurette
• “Images from the Front Line: The Photography of Letters from Iwo Jima” Featurette
• 11/15/2006 World Premiere at Budo-kan in Tokyo
• 11/16/2006 Press Conference at Grand Hyatt Tokyo
• Trailer
• Previews


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Letters From Iwo Jima: Special Edition (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 16, 2007)

As a director, Clint Eastwood seems to be getting better with age – or at least more respected. I acknowledge that some of his efforts like 2004’s Oscar-winning Million Dollar Baby haven’t worked for me, but I very much admire and respect Eastwood’s talent. It’s amazing that he’s earned his greatest praise for flicks created in his seventies.

I also applaud the ambition behind Eastwood’s last two films. In 2006, Eastwood told us about World War II’s battle of Iwo Jima – from both sides. Flags of Our Fathers looked at events from the American point of view, while Letters from Iwo Jima took on the Japanese side.

Letters takes us to Iwo Jima in the days that led up to the American assault. It follows a few different characters through those events. We meet regular soldier Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) and see the actions through his everyday routine. Along the way, Shimizu (Ryo Kase) joins his ranks and gets treated with suspicion, as Saigo and his pals believe Shimizu to be a spy from a governmental agency.

We also encounter General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) and take in his planning and direction of the battle. Finally, tank commander – and former Olympic gold medal horse rider - Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) completes our collection of leads, as we see his part in the fight. The movie traces behind these characters to involve us in the Japanese side of the war.

Although comparisons between Letters and Flags become inevitable, I think they fall into apples and oranges territory to a degree. This isn’t because they approach the battle from both sides. Instead, they’re just really different kinds of movies in their focus. Flags only sporadically concentrates on the actual warfare, as much of it examines the later repercussions for its characters.

On the other hand, Letters stays firmly stuck on the island. We leave for flashbacks to show us the lives of the leads, but the characters themselves never physically leave Iwo Jima. That creates a rather different story than Flags, which it must since it can’t follow the battle’s aftereffects. Flags wanted to show the lives of those involved in an iconic image, while Letters prefers to focus on the war’s direct impact.

In that vein, it does well. I like the split among the four main characters. Of course, it’s not a perfectly even division, as Kuribayashi and Saigo fill most of the story. Nonetheless, it allows us to take in varying perspectives and get a broader view of events.

Some viewers complained about the sympathetic nature of the main characters and they noted that the film seemed to ignore the brutality exhibited by some Japanese soldiers during the battle. These folks felt the movie should’ve offered more of a focus on the “bad” Japanese instead of these likable, thoughtful soldiers.

One problem with following the "bad" soldiers is that they'd die off too easily. They'd get killed or kill themselves ala the scene where the soldiers are ordered to off themselves rather than regroup elsewhere. Plus, I don't think Eastwood intends to tell a perfectly balanced, accurate story of the battle. It's more of a subjective film that intends to show nuance in its characters. Really, haven't we seen more than enough of "evil" Japanese soldiers in other flicks?

That said, I don't see it as a whitewashing. It conveys the atrocities and makes sure we understand the cultural side of things. I see the flick as a tragedy, since the Japanese wasted their lives so willingly. The theme of honor and duty pervade Letters, but the movie doesn’t treat its characters like mindless automatons.

Indeed, they may think a little too much. With all its introspective characters, at times the film comes across like a Japanese version of The Thin Red Line. However, Eastwood makes sure to ground Letters in reality better than Terrence Malick did in his windy WWII epic, and that makes Letters eminently more satisfying. This isn’t a dreamy, gooey examination of the war; it presents plenty of brutality but also allows for a more expressive and emotional side.

I expect its moral ambiguity will mean Letters isn’t for everyone, and in the end, I probably prefer Flags as a film. It tells a story that I find to be more intriguing, as we’ve seen material like Letters elsewhere whereas Flags seems a bit more unusual. Nonetheless, we’ve not viewed the same battle from two perspectives by the same director, and that factor helps create intrigue here. Letters presents an involving and emotional tale.

The DVD Grades: Picture A/ Audio A/ Bonus C+

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.6842 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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