Entertainment Magazine

Can't Send No Postcards

Posted on the 30 May 2014 by Sjhoneywell
Film: Letters from Iwo Jima
Format: DVD from personal collection on laptop. Can't Send No Postcards I consider myself a fan of Ken Watanabe for the same reason that I’m a fan of people like Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, and David Gulpilil: they all have gravitas. There is a presence that each of them (and many others) bring to every role they undertake. When Watanabe is on screen, I want to watch him. Letters from Iwo Jima may not be my favorite of his films (I have a soft spot for Tampopo), but it might be his most impressive role.

As the name of the film implies, this is a war film. What makes it particularly unusual is that despite its being directed by Clint Eastwood, most of the film is in Japanese. This is, after all, the Japanese side of the battle for Iwo Jima. The Japanese lost this battle, with both sides taking horrific casualties. That known going in, this was never going to be a fun romp in the park.

We start in the modern day with a group of Japanese archaeologists digging through the caves and tunnels on the island. One of them discovers something, and as they begin digging it up, we move back in time to 1944 and the Japanese preparations for the inevitable American invasion of the island fortress. The new commander of the island, General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) arrives and witnesses one of his underlings beating a couple of his soldiers for a lack of patriotism. One of these soldiers is Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), who we will be following for the bulk of the film.

There is a certain understanding here that virtually everyone on the Japanese side will not be leaving the island alive. The Japanese soldiers know this, and so do we in the audience. There is an air of fatalism surrounding everything that happens because of this. Because of this, it makes a certain sense not to become too attached to any of the characters because once the battle starts, they will start dropping like flies. Unfortunately for us in the audience, the entire point of Letters from Iwo Jima is to humanize the Japanese soldiers and show that unlike the way they are depicted in the more jingoistic war films of previous decades, these are just people fulfilling their duty as best they can. We come to know several of the men fairly well in addition to Saigo and Kuribayashi. Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), for instance, we learn was an Olympic medalist and is something of a celebrity. Shimizu (Ryo Kase) is suspected of being a member of the Japanese military police, but eventually admits to being dishonorably discharged from that service. Ito (Shido Nakamura) is insanely patriotic to the point of abusing his men for not living up to his standards of rabid nationalism. And as the film progresses, this men are slowly but surely picked off, killed, horribly injured, mangled or commit suicide to protect their own honor.

For me, it’s the fatalism and acceptance of death that is the most fascinating aspect of the film. Certainly a good many of the American troops contained within them this same sort of fatalism and many committed self-sacrificing acts of heroism and bravery. But here, we’re exposed to a culture that demanded such opinions from everyone. These men have been raised in a culture that promotes self-sacrifice on the battlefield as an ideal, and even suggests that suicide is preferable to capture or failure, something that his horribly and terribly shown to us in one scene as an entire squad of troops kills itself off one by one with hand grenades.

Finishing very soon.

Why to watch Letters from Iwo Jima: Because humanizing a former enemy is what we should do.
Why not to watch: It’s depressing as all hell.

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