Sunday, November 3, 2013

Letters from Iwo Jima - Movie Review

Another World War II movie, sensitively portraying the futility of war. The background is the valiant effort by Japanese soldiers to hold back the vastly superior American forces in a doomed battle from occupying the critical island of Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood's movie was a combination movie - the other being 'Flags of Our Fathers' which shows the American viewpoint in this battle.

The battle of Iwo Jima was fought between Feb - March 1945. The US Army would get a base to launch their attack on Japan from the island which had 3 airfields. But Japan had already lost heavily - and had no air and naval cover. Instead they send General Kuribayashi who brings a different kind of a strategy to build 18 kms of tunnels and underground bunkers to hold back the Americans on the first ever American attack on Japanese territory - instead of fortifying the beaches as is normally done. The battle is considered the bloodiest and fiercest battle in the Pacific. Japan, in the only time in the war, inflicted more casualties on the US army in this battle than ever. Japan had 22000 soldiers of which only 216 were taken prisoners. The rest died defending their island. But what is most interesting about this battle is the intensity with which the Japanese defended their territory - what was considered a 4-5 day operation to take over what with the air force and naval powers of the US Army took 5 weeks or 40 days!

Shown from the perspective of Saigo, a reluctant private who has left behind a young wife expecting a child, the war and specially the hopelessness of the abandoned Japanese troops gets under your skin. They know they are doomed to die and they are told that they must fight until the last man dies and take at least 10 enemies before they die. There is no surrender and no escape, only sure death. As the battle intensifies some choose honorable exit by blowing themselves with grenades or shooting themselves but Kuribayashi insists that all soldiers fight and extend it as long as they can to help Japan's cause. Fight they do, with no water, no food, no ammunition an sheer belief. Kuribayashi's order to Saigo before leading the rest into battle for a final general charge to burn the letters that the soldiers wrote is not followed - Saigo buries them in a cave which are later found by a team archeologists.

The opening up of their eyes that American soldiers are also just like them, that American mothers also write as their own mothers do (do what is right, because that is right), the hopelessness and madness of seeing their friends die, the fight between fear of death and honour, the nobility and bravery of the soldiers and even the stupidity and cowardice of some others, comes through. The death of the boy who was sent to war because of his inability to shoot a dog is a scene that stays just as the death of the noble Olympian Lt. Col. Nishi remains. The movie was almost entirely in Japanese and I was dead without subtitles. Fine performances specially by Ken Watanabe, great work and an interesting, poignant film.

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