Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

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Released 3-Jul-2007

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category War Featurette-Making Of-Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters from Iwo Jima
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 134:47 (Case: 140)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Clint Eastwood
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Ken Watanabe
Kazunari Ninomiya
Tsuyoshi Ihara
Ryo Kase
Shido Nakamura
Hiroshi Watanabe
Takumi Bando
Yuki Matsuzaki
Takashi Yamaguchi
Eijiro Ozaki
Nae
Nobumasa Sakagami
Akiko Shima
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $34.95 Music Kyle Eastwood
Michael Stevens


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese
English
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles Arabic
Dutch
Greek
Hebrew
Icelandic
Portuguese
English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   

The battle is entering its final chapter.
Since the enemy's landing the gallant fighting of the men under my command has been such that even the gods would weep.


Letters From Iwo Jima is the second in Clint Eastwood's two-part film series on the bloody battle which took place on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima in February/March 1945. The first film, Flags of our Fathers was released on DVD about a month ago.

In a startling experiment, which would have been unthinkable until recently, Eastwood has presented the battle from the Japanese perspective and the film is almost entirely in the Japanese language. In the documentary which accompanies the film (Red Sun, Black Sand - the original title of the film) Eastwood explains that the idea struck him to do the second film only during preparation for Flags. In comparison with the $50 million budget for Flags, Letters cost a miniscule $15 million.

Those who have seen the first film or know about Iwo Jima will remember it as hell on earth, a volcanic chunk of rock with strategic value but no practical benefit - it had no food, no shelter and no water. The ground in which the Japanese built their tunnels was often filled with sulphurous gasses.

Flags of Our Fathers was about the terrible toll that the battle took on the U.S. soldiers that landed there confident in the belief that, with their vastly superior arsenal, the battle would be short-lived. Instead the Japanese proved remarkably resilient and the island consumed over 20,000 lives. The Americans raised a symbolic flag over the highest point on the island Mount Suribachi early in the campaign. The men who raised the flag became unwilling heroes and the film showed how they were haunted by their experiences on the island.

In particular, I humbly rejoice in the fact that they have continued to fight bravely
though utterly empty-handed and ill-equipped against a land, sea, and air attack of a material superiority such as surpasses the imagination.


Letters From Iwo Jima focuses on the maverick General Tadamichi Kuriyabachi and his flouting of traditional Japanese military strategy, which ensured that the battle was long and drawn out. Scriptwriter Paul Haggis, working with Japanese/American writer Iris Yamashita has crafted an intelligent, sobering story from available materials. Whilst it does have the ring of truth it must be said that the story is fictional as there were few survivors of the battle on the Japanese side.

One after another they are falling to the ceaseless and ferocious attacks of the enemy.
For this reason, the situation has arisen whereby I must disappoint your expectations
and yield this important place to the hands of the enemy. With humility and sincerity, I offer my repeated apologies.

The plot of Letters is simple. The film is book ended by a modern sequence in which a group of researchers are searching for artefacts in the tunnels and come across a cache of unsent letters buried for over 40 years.

Kuriyabashi (Ken Watanabe) arrives on Iwo Jima with strict orders to prevent the Americans from taking it. He clashes with the commanders on the island who maintain that the tried and true Japanese strategy of placing pill boxes on the beach to prevent the Americans from landing should be the priority. After walking around the island many times Kuriyabashi scraps that philosophy and accepts the notion that the Americans will land.

Instead he devises a strategy for keeping them from taking control of the island. He orders that the troops dig a series of tunnels (some 18 miles in length) through the heart of the island and under Mount Suribachi.

The plan works to perfection and the Americans are forced to pay dearly for every advance made onto the island. Letters is not just about the decisions made at the top. Eastwood tells two stories, one of the wily commander and one of the grunts at the very bottom of the chain of command, forced to endure the unendurable all the while contemplating their inevitable deaths.

Two of the key grunt stories are of Seigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), the gentle baker, who dreams of home and Shimizu (Ryo Case) a former secret police officer dumped into the ranks for reasons that define the man.

The film is really an inexorable slide towards death for the fighters as they struggle with no food or water as well as the lack of ammunition and are left with nothing to do but ponder their fate. In many ways the film resembles The Thin Red Line more than other recent American films, such as Saving Private Ryan, not just because it concentrates on the Pacific Theatre, but also because of its meditative tone.

Throughout the film we hear the actors reading letters that either were sent from the island or were indicative of the letters sent. The men live in fear and hatred of their enemy believing the Americans to be savages. Kuriyabashi knows different as he went to Harvard. Also on the island is a Japanese equine megastar, a showjumper who went to the Olympics. He and former cavalry man Kuriyabashi become friends. Letters is a deep and affecting experience not just because of the blood, gore and horrifying conditions. It is the perfect anti-war film because there is no glamour whatsoever in the struggle. The Americans were shocked and forced to fight a gritty ground battle after days of shelling had failed to dislodge the enemy. The Japanese fought with bravery and tenacity but, ultimately, their lives meant nothing as the American onslaught was halted for just over a month. Before too long the war would be over.

Our ammunition is gone and our water dried up. Now is the time for us to make our final counterattack and fight gallantly,
conscious of the Emperors favour, not begrudging our efforts though they turn our bones to powder and pulverize our bodies.


The cast is composed of relative unknowns. It is headed by the great Ken Watanabe as Kuriyabashi, one of the finest actors of any ethnicity. He is the Morgan Freeman of Japanese actors able to lend gravitas to even the most average of films. He gives a stately dignity to this man, who was a delicate and friendly family man in spite of his eminent position in the Japanese military.

As the everyman soldier Seigo, boy band star Ninomiya gives a wide eyed, soulful performance as the humble baker who reluctantly leaves his wife, who is expecting their first child, to enter into military service. It is through him that we see how the humble recruit handles the inevitability of a harsh death in a remote part of the Empire. The remainder of the cast are uniformly good, clearly responding to the delicate direction of Clint Eastwood.

The film is finely paced. Though there is war and death all around it often does not feel like a war film and will no doubt defeat the expectations, as did Flags before it, of any viewer who wants a straight up and down war film. For my money it is not only one of the best films in recent memory it is the pinnacle of Clint Eastwood's talents. It deserves to sit beside Gallipoli and Paths of Glory as the very best of anti-war films.

Letters received 4 Oscar nominations (it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film) including nods for Watanabe as Best Actor, Eastwood for Direction and the film itself for Best Picture. It won one, for sound editing, which was thoroughly deserved.

Farewell for all eternity.

Last telegram from General Tadamichi Kuriyabachi to the Imperial General Headquarters prior to leading the final charge against the Americans.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Letters From Iwo Jima is presented on DVD in a 2.40:1 transfer consistent with its original cinematic aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It is 16x9 enhanced.


The case incorrectly describes it as a 1.85:1 transfer.


Like Flags, Letters From Iwo Jima has been heavily treated in post production. The film has been stripped of its colour and appears sepia like. Colours are therefore muted throughout. Still the effect is impressive and the end result on DVD is undoubtedly consistent with the directors' intentions.


Film grain is light. The film is fairly sharp and the close ups are clear. Contrast is effective particularly in the tunnel scenes where the inky blackness predominates.

The print is clean and clear and carries no imperfections. The only flaw is some mild compression in some of the battle scenes where the clouds of dust really put the DVD to the test.

There are subtitles in English and various other languages. The subtitles are clear and easy to read. There are also subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired which give a good account of on screen action.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sound for Letters From Iwo Jima is Dolby Digital 5.1 running at 384 Kb/s.

This would have to be one of the best soundtracks I have heard for some time. The mix is deep and engaging. The surrounds are used to full effect throughout.

Of course, the standouts are the battle sequences where the thump of shells drives the subwoofer up a notch and the bullets zing left, right, rear and centre. We feel each deep thump as if it were falling above our heads.

However, the soundtrack is notable not just for the pyrotechnics. The mix is so well balanced that the falling rain in some scenes and ambient noise in others is allowed to trickle through and truly inform the action.

Dialogue is clear and seems to be in perfect audio sync.

The music by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens really just consists of a single theme played on piano, horns and strings. The theme is haunting and unforgettable.

It is no wonder the film won an Oscar for sound editing as the track is complete and immersive.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Featurette-Making Of Red Sun, Black Sand 20.59

The only real extra on the DVD is this making of featurette. It is a good guide to the different aspects of the film and features lengthy discussions with the scriptwriters and Eastwood. The only notable omission is any of the actors. I initially suspected that on its budget the cost of bringing a bunch of actors over from Japan was prohibitive. However, I note that there is a feature on the Region 1 DVD of interviews with the cast.

Even though the cost of the production was low, with filming in California rather than the Iceland of Flags Eastwood hints at a challenging production where he didn't really understand what his actors were saying!

Theatrical Trailer 2.16

The trailer is nice and direct giving a good summary of things to come.

The Flags edition I reviewed had several extra features on a second DVD. I can't say that I am not disappointed at the omission of more materials on this single disc. They can be purchased on the Region 1 Special Edition mentioned below

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   As well as the Red Sun, Black Sand featurette Region 1 has a Special Edition of the movie which comes with the extras below:

"The Faces of Combat: The Cast of Letters from Iwo Jima" -featurette (18:36 min)
"Images from the Frontlines: The Photography of Letters from Iwo Jima" -featurette (3:24 min)
"November 2006 World Premiere at Budo-kan in Tokyo" -featurette (16 min)
"November 2006 Press Conference" -featurette (24:26 min)

A 5 DVD edition is also available in Region 1 which includes Flags and Letters with all the features and an extra DVD of features. The avid fan would probably want this edition.

The film is available on high definition formats but it has not been released yet in this form in Region B.

Summary

    In Flags of Our Fathers director Clint Eastwood looked at the effect that the savage fighting on the tiny volcanic rock of Iwo Jima had on the men who survived. Letters From Iwo Jima shows the battle from the Japanese perspective and is the better of the two films taking us deep into the mindset of the enemy. It is a melancholy, meditative film which sits well amongst the greatest of anti-war films. The transfer is excellent, with a sound mix that is superb and the Making of feature is a worthwhile addition to the set that is otherwise a bit short on extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DVR 630H-S, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic TH-50PV60A 50' Plasma. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX - SR603
SpeakersOnkyo 6.1 Surround

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Best movie of 2006, Eastwood's greatest, work & one of the all time great war films ... - Fred REPLY POSTED
Well done Clint. - Sean. REPLY POSTED