Clint Eastwood's companion piece to FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is again set during World War II. But in LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, he looks at the war from the Japanese perspective, using Japanese dialogue. With American forces on their way, General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, THE LAST SAMURAI) arrives on the island to find his troops woefully under-trained and hopelessly outmatched. Japanese pop and television star Kazunari Ninomiya plays Saigo, a young soldier who asks, "Am I digging my own grave?" as he creates trenches. With no hope of reinforcements, these men have little hope of leaving the island alive. Eastwood and director of photography Tom Stern paint their picture in a palette of taupes and grays. The landscape of the volcanic island is desolate, providing a hellish experience for the stationed soldiers but a stark beauty for the audience. With this bleak setting, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is a powerful ode to duty in dire circumstances. General Kuribayashi and Saigo provide the emotional center of the film, giving a glimpse into the minds of both seasoned officers and drafted novices. Eastwood doesn't deal in simple heroes and villains; these characters are sympathetic and real, whether their motives are pride, fear, or loyalty to their country. Though only the Academy-Award-nominated Watanabe is a familiar face to American audiences, each of the actors involved displays his experience working in Japanese film, television, and theater. The battle scenes are breathtaking and brutal, but it's the actors who are the core of the film. The picture has the standard tropes found in any modern war film, like verbal abuse by a superior and battle scenes filled with severed limbs. But Eastwood goes beyond the war-movie boilerplate with this impressive film that deserves every accolade it earns.
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