Letters From Iwo Jima (2006)
For a technically completely insignificant island like Iwo Jima, far off the Japanese coastline, to have two, high-profile films about it in one year seems excessive. What Eastwood has done with Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima is highly interesting, if not downright revolutionary in film history - portraying a battle from the perspective of both sides, shooting it (almost) simultaneously, and making it into two separate films. What is perhaps most impressive, however, is the quite different tone he manages to give his two entries. Whereas Flags of Our Fathers turned out to be an unrhythmic and flawed message movie, Letters From Iwo Jima is a harrowing delve into Japanese culture and moral values. Another relief is the fact that the two films are rarely overlapping - neither narratively nor thematically (aside from the fact that they both deal with war).
To be honest, there are a few aspects that makes Letters From Iwo Jima different from almost every other war movie. The most noteworthy is that not only do we know from the set off what the outcome will be, but so do all our protagonists. The knowledge of defeat, and that they are all there on that island to die, gives the film a rare psychological perspective. Eastwood's most prominent achievement here is the way he is able to convey the codex of the Japanese army. Their idea of honour and respect, and their value system is quite different from our modern western valuation of individuality. Despite the horror and apparent meaninglessness, the film's respecting and balanced presentation of the Japanese provides us with a different point of view which is more enlightening than exploitive.
Letters From Iwo Jima is a sober, nuanced film. Eastwood's pacing and consistency is far superior to that of its twin. The film isn't free of sentimentality, which is good for a film with as much poise as this one. It stays close to its characters, letting us crawl under the skin of them. The brilliant Ken Watanabe invites us into his realm of thinking. And what's more impressive is that there's nothing heroic about our protagonist, Saigo. It is exactly his cowardice that keeps him alive (another good performance, by Japanese teen idol Kazunari Ninomiya - proving that it isn't impossible being a pop star and a credible actor after all).
Fortunately, Eastwood isn't particularly interested in politics this time around. Instead, he's focusing on strategy and tactics, which has been undermined in so many war movies. It makes the film a fresh experience, not only in the respect that we're spared for the overexposed American patriotism, but also as a technical and narrative perspective.