Kanji Letters From Iwo Jima
Kanji Letters From Iwo Jima – , the American side of the WWII battle for the Japanese island of Iwo Jima and its subsequent aftermath for a number of soldiers, has turned its attention to the fate of Japanese troops.
In the conflict, which raged for more than a month between February and March 1945, 100,000 US troops attempted to eradicate 22,000 defenders. Nearly 7,000 US forces died (and about 19,000 were wounded) on Iwo Jima; only 1,100 or so Japanese survived.
Kanji Letters From Iwo Jima
As a framing device, Eastwood stages the excavation of a series of letters on Iwo Jima in 2005. Throughout the film we hear passages of letters written by Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), as well as a humbler soldier, the il Saigo baker (Kazunari Ninomiya).
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Kuribayashi was in charge of the defense of Iwo Jima in the summer of 1944. The film begins with his arrival on the island. Saigo and his companions are shuffling away, digging trenches on the beach. The new commander puts an end to this and instead insists on building defenses in the island’s mountains. Eventually, the Japanese built an elaborate network of 5,000 caves, tunnels and forts, some 18 miles long. Some of the man-made caves could hold 300 to 400 people.
Eastwood’s film portrays Kuribayashi as a cosmopolitan figure. Of samurai origin and aristocrat, the Japanese officer had been partially educated in Canada and had lived for two years in the United States, serving as a deputy military attaché. He was reportedly opposed to a Japanese war with America, particularly impressed by the latter’s industrial prowess.
Kuribayashi realized that his forces would not be able to eventually hold out against a massive invasion force. The Japanese high command was unable to provide him with any air or naval support. His goal became to make the taking of Iwo Jima as expensive as possible for the Americans. “Don’t expect to come home alive,” he tells his men about him. Contrary to ritual suicide and the equally suicidal and chilling “banzai charge,” which alerted the enemy to its presence, Kuribayashi insisted that no soldier could die before killing 10 people on the other side.
The script, by Iris Yamashita, places a lot of emphasis on the split between the socialite Kuribayashi and Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), Olympic equestrian champion at the 1932 Games, on the one hand, and a group of militaristic fanatics among the Japanese officer corps. on the other hand, it includes the fanatic Lieutenant Ito (Shido Nakamura). The latter, religiously devoted to the emperor and his homeland, is almost anxious to die at the hands of him and to see his men suffer the same fate. (Since the battle inevitably goes bad for the Japanese, a mass suicide with a hand grenade is one of the horrific fruits of this kind of effort.) These other officers conspire against Kuribayashi from the start, opposing his defensive strategy and his leniency towards the base soldiers.
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It is unclear how much of this conflict is actually based and how much it stems from the filmmakers’ perceived need to create dramatic tension and, moreover, offer a more understanding Japanese commander. Kuribayashi clearly had tactical differences with the general staff, but he was also one of the few Japanese officers who was granted a personal audience with Emperor Hirohito and was assigned to defend Iwo Jima by Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
Either way, Ninomiya’s Saigo provides much of the film’s emotional and social strength. From the start, when he gets in trouble for anti-patriotic comments while digging trenches in the sand (“Damn this island, Americans can have it!”), He moves us and interests us. In flashbacks, we see him and his young wife Hanako (Nae) trying to give their bakery a try, which has been ruined by the war. One evening, knocking on the door leads to the unwelcome news that Saigo has been drafted. A neighbor tells Hanako: “Congratulations! Your husband will go to war. “The faces of the young couple tell a very different story. Later she yells at him:” None of the men will ever come back. “
Another intriguing flashback concerns Shimizu (Ryo Kase), a new member of Saigo’s unit on Iwo Jima. When he tells his new companions that he was trained at the Imperial Japanese Academy, Saigo assumes that he is a member of the
, the notorious military and secret police, sent to spy on them. (The Kempeitai played a brutal role in Korea in particular, under Japanese colonial rule, and also persecuted leftist and anti-war forces at home. Often made arrests without a warrant and resorted to torture.)
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In fact, we later learn that Shimizu was cast out of that force after only a few days, for showing humanity. During the patrol, Shimizu and his Kempeitai commander come across a house that does not display the Japanese flag. A woman, whose husband is at war, lives there and is unable to hoist the flag on her own. Shimizu helps her, but during her trial her family dog barks at him. His superior orders him to shoot the dog for interrupting “military communications”. Shimizu only pretends to kill the animal, but the ruse is revealed and his commander beats him, calling him a weakling.
The letters from Japanese soldiers, nearly all destined to die on the island, are about the mundane details of life. Kuribayashi apologizes to his wife for leaving before she could finish the kitchen floor. Saigo longs to see the baby born after his departure. Later, Nishi reads a letter found about a dead American soldier from his mother telling him about a dog that dug a hole under a fence and escaped and other daily events. He adds: “Please, he comes home safely.” These moments are touching and highlighting the horror of war, its terrible waste.
Ninomiya as Saigo is particularly attractive. The artist, a pop music star and a television and theater actor in Japan, has a deeply human face. His Saigo is one of those individuals who never command others, even though he experiences a lot of it himself. While at work on the beach making trenches, he writes to his wife: “Am I digging my own grave?”
Ninomiya explains: “I play an ordinary baker who is catapulted into a situation that forces him to lose his humanity in order to survive … War is so cruel that it leaves nothing behind and the scars of war can never fade. “
Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima: Remarkable, In Many Ways
. Making a film about the suffering “your” soldiers endure is one thing, making a film about the horrors inflicted on the “enemy” is another thing. There is some significance to this work being done in the midst of the Bush administration’s endless “war on terror”, which consumes countless lives and billions of dollars. American cinema has come a long way at least since then
According to the “principle of counterpoint”, perhaps only an Eastwood, rightly or wrongly associated in the past with a patriotic vision of “law and order”, could have gotten away with this film. However, it took some courage.
He says, “In most of the war movies that I grew up with, there were good and bad. Life isn’t like that and war isn’t like that. These films [
] are not about winning or losing. They are about the effects of this war on human beings and on those who lose their lives long before their time. “
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The director explains that the search gave birth to Japanese soldiers. “The young conscripts who were on the island were very similar to the Americans. They didn’t necessarily want to be at war. They were sent there and told not to plan to return. This is something you couldn’t say to an American with a straight face. Most people enter combat thinking, “Yes, it could be dangerous and I could be killed, but I could also go home and go back to normal.”
“At the time, there was a great chance they would stay on the island. This is a mentality that for me personally is very difficult to understand. But to try and understand it, I read as much as possible about them and what it was like for them. “
Actor Ken Watanabe comments: “We can understand somewhere in the back of our mind that war is not good, but it is quite rare that we hate war from the bottom of our hearts in everyday life. When you see what was done there, the reality of it, you will never want to send your children or boyfriends to war. “
Speaking of World War II, Eastwood (born in 1930 in San Francisco) who was a teenager when it ended, observes: “I remember I was glad it was over. Everyone around the world wanted a peaceful state. I just hope we all have many peaceful states in our lives … all of us. “
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