It is rare for the western powerhouses to shed light on the other sides of warfare. Clint Eastwood is not a name all that synonymous with showcasing the other side of the coin. His red, white and blue patriotism is at the core of so many of his 21st-century projects. More fool me. We should not judge a man on his other works, especially when Letters from Iwo Jima manages to craft a respectful and thoroughly interesting story of two Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. A determination is showcased, not from Eastwood, but from the men whose lives he looks to bring to life. They are not so different from the values he treasures as a patriot, and it is a grand vision that he displays when adapting to another country and their values.
Indifferent some may be to the allure of patriotism; it is adapted well within this feature. Japan and America are drawn with similarities, despite the latter never featuring in the most prominent and touching of moments. Eastwood manages to collate these comparisons through sheer aversion. Seasoned fans of his work will know of his love for the American Dream and his analysis of it in later years has been fascinating. Letters from Iwo Jima expands on those similar tones, just in a different country and from an alternative perspective. Honour and family values are still immediate and knowable, but it is how they are performed and where they become relevant that gives this feature the edge.
Eastwood offers a dynamic setlist of different shots. Beautiful, on-location scenery rushes over the screen with a story to tell. It is far more impressive to see the beaches of Japan and the isolation it offers than some humdrum run through of American heroism once again. Even then, they have different values that are necessary in separating the two countries and the effect of patriotism on the men who are risking their lives for a war with seemingly no end. Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya are outstanding. Passion and devotion are leaking from their performances, showcasing the harsh brutality of a Japanese regiment and the insufferable training they were put through.
A powerful script redeems what few shortcomings Letters from Iwo Jima may have. War is hell, regardless of the side these men take. Letters from Iwo Jima is mature with that idea and the integrity Eastwood provides is marvellous. Those that are suckers for a grand bit of military history will feel right at home with this feature, and it may provide inspiration or interest to see warfare from a losing perspective. These men do not feel like losers, and the adage of what makes a human being a hero is intact. It is an idea presented better here than it is in those that wish to take a traipse through the life of an ordinary American hero. It is the knowable history, the well-performed characters and the iconography that surrounds this great culture that makes Letters from Iwo Jima so enthralling, but it is Eastwood’s knack for directing that keeps it all together.