Letters from Iwo Jima appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. A release from the format’s early days, this one largely looked good but it could show its age.
Sharpness took a minor hit, as wider shots could seem a smidgen soft. While most of the movie offered appealing accuracy, these mild exceptions existed.
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, as they kept within the largely monochromatic scheme. Within those constraints, everything looked fine.
Blacks were deep and full, while shadows seemed clear and concise. Outside of the occasional instance of softness, this turned into an appealing presentation.
In addition, the Dolby TrueHD 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.
How did the Blu-ray compare with the DVD version? Both offered similar soundfields, but the BD’s lossless audio boasted superior range and impact.
Visuals demonstrated the expected step up, as the Blu-ray seemed better defined and smoother. Even with the occasional soft element, this turned into an upgrade.
As we head to extras, we begin with Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters from Iwo Jima. In this 21-minute, two-second show, 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 disc 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 Letters from Iwo Jima. This 18-minute, 40-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 footnote: Huffman bears a spooky resemblance to Donny Osmond.
Images from the Front Line: The Photography of Letters from Iwo Jima runs three minutes, 27 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 disc presents 11/15/2006 World Premiere at Budo-kan in Tokyo (16:07) and 11/16/2006 Press Conference at Grand Hyatt Tokyo (24:28).
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. Though I prefer Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima proves complex and involving on its own. The Blu-ray offers audio along with generally good picture and a smattering of decent extras. Though I’d like to find more substantial supplements, this is a satisfactory release for a strong movie.
To rate this film visit the original review of LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA