Samurai, Not Soldiers: a review of “Letters from Iwo Jima”

I can’t recommend this movie enough and thus I am reposting this review I did back in March. If you still have some time to spare this long weekend, catch this movie. Please. Simply incredible stuff here from one of my favorite actors — Ken Watanabe (also known as Katsumoto in The Last Samurai)!

Play the main title theme below and read the review that follows.

I’m not a big fan of war films but this has quickly become one of my all-time favorites movies. Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima [91% fresh at Rotten Tomatoes] is about the 1945 Battle of Iwo Jima which is considered as one of the costliest battles of World War II. The island is of strategic importance, as its capture was essential to an American strike on the Japanese mainland.

The film is also a complementary piece to Eastwood’s Flag of Our Fathers which looks at the same battle from the American’s perspective. I have yet to see that film.

So judging solely on what I’ve seen, I reiterate that this is simply a fantastic piece of work. It captures the Japanese war era so well, and gives us a close, personal look at the Japanese of that era who have often been portrayed as savage and evil. And the most amazing thing is that they don’t cast the Americans as their opposite number. They are all soldiers in war, and they all have mothers and wives waiting for them at home.

Of course I also watched the film as an Asian Studies teacher, and I walked out of the theater with a new film that my classes next year will see when we get to Japan and World War II. It captures the bushido ethic rather well, and has a comment or two to make about the Japanese sense of duty to their country and to their emperor.

Moving on to the technical elements of the film, everything is top notch. Costumes are superb and the music, as you can hear above, is enchanting in the sense that it has a distinctly Japanese feel and themes you would expect from a war film.

Clint Eastwood is a fine director, and I’ll be honest now, this is his first movie I’ve ever seen. Now I believe the hype. The movie clocks in at two hours and ten minutes, but not a single scene is wasted. I was drawn so much into the film that when the time came for the soldiers’ final act of desperation, I could feel it with them. And this is a compliment to the director.

What makes the film a perfect package for me is the casting, as highlighted by Ken Watanabe in the lead role of General Kuribayashi. All the characters are deep, memorable and clearly defined. Flashbacks are utilized very well here as they give us a glimpse into the character’s motivations and feelings. I have always admired the acting chops of Ken Watanabe and this is perhaps his greatest performance to date after his role of Katsumoto in The Last Samurai.

Above all, the film has a lot to say about war and the people in it, but it never comes across as too indulgent or self-important. In the end, this is a movie about people, faith and ideology, and how war brings out the best and worst in all of them.

I won’t be forgetting this film any time soon, and I hope you walk out the theater feeling the same way. There’s only one way to find out — see it.

Letters from Iwo Jima trailer


Other reviews for 2007:


5 thoughts on “Samurai, Not Soldiers: a review of “Letters from Iwo Jima”

  1. wahahahaha kazunari ninomiya trying to pick up a crap bucket amuses me. aside from that, again, sir, i flail for the movie.

    i really love it for the whole of it, but people don’t seem to take me seriously because of my fangirliness and all >.>

  2. Readers will also enjoy Soldier’s Mail: Letters Home from a New England Soldier 1916-1919 which features the writings of U.S. Sgt. Sam Avery during the American involvement in the Great War. A compelling eyewitness narrative from the hot sands along the Rio Grande to the cold mud along the Meuse.

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