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Clint Eastwood
Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara
Writing Credits:
Iris Yamashita

With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima itself, the unprecedented tactics of General Tadamichi Kuribayasi and his men transform what was predicted to be a swift defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Opening Weekend:
$89,097 on 5 screens.
Domestic Gross:

Rated R.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Japanese Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 140 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 5/22/2007

• “Red Sun, Black Sand” Featurette
• “The Faces of Combat” Featurette
• “Images from the Front Line” Featurette
• 11/15/2006 World Premiere
• 11/16/2006 Press Conference
• Trailer


-LG OLED65C6P 65-Inch 4K Ultra HD Smart OLED TV
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-Panasonic DMP-BDT220P Blu-Ray Player
-Chane A2.4 Speakers
-SVS SB12-NSD 12" 400-watt Sealed Box Subwoofer


Letters From Iwo Jima [Blu-Ray] (2006)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 2, 2022)

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 perspective.

Letters takes us to Iwo Jima in the days that led up to the American assault, and 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, though.

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, and 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, as 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, as instead, 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 Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio A/ Bonus C+

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

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