Sunday, February 11, 2007

Letters From Iwo Jima

I ventured to the theater last night to check out Letters From Iwo Jima. Clint Eastwood delivers a real winner here. Set on the island of Iwo Jima, the movie tells the story of the battle from the perspective of the Japanese soldier.

Its a great movie, with lots of fine acting and special effects. There is a share of blood and gore, but not quite as much as say... Saving Private Ryan had. The blood is there,lots of it, but the camera doesn't center on it, instead focusing on the reactions and emotions of the soldiers.
Eastwood manages to pull the humanity out of the characters and draw you in that direction instead. He drags you right into the caves, and makes you a part of the Japanese soldier's life.
Much of the action centers on Saigo, a young draftee who would rather be back home with his wife and the baby daughter he has never seen. He's more of a survivor than a soldier, but he does his duty, flinchingly, looking for a way to escape the horrors around him, even if that escape is only through his memories and letters.

Parallel to Saigo's story, there are the experiences of the commanding General Kuribayashi, as he prepares the island, and it's defenders, for the final battle-to-the-death against American forces. He knows he will die, and is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in defense of his people. As he says: "Every day we hold out, is one more day my children will live in peace in Japan". This is his motivation for prolonging the inevitable:defeat and death.

I must admit to large level of emotional discomfort while watching the film. I had an uncle,who I actually did get to know, who fought the island hopping campaign in the USMC. He fought, and survived, every battle,every island, before he was 19yrs old. So, whenever I watch a movie or documentary of the war in the South Pacific, I have this emotional cheering inside my soul. Uncle Vic, at barely 5ft 8in, was larger than Rambo. He never spoke about it, but everybody else did. He was real. In our family, he was a hero. (In his mind, he was just another marine.) Knowing he got 'hit' at Iwo conflicted greatly with my connection to the Japanese soldiers I had developed throughout the film.

This movie is pure art-house war drama. I can appreciate that, but may be a reason why many won't be seeing it. That is a shame.

In short, this movie brings out the humanity and goodness of both sides in a bitter struggle. Instead of the politics, you see the victims of the politics. But that is the way of the history,ain't it? Those who pay the biggest price in war are those who are at the bottom of ladder.

In the end, you walk out knowing this movie isn't about what side of the war was right or wrong. Instead, you understand that what is right or wrong for the individual in his circumstances is what really matters. This, I think, is the real message behind the movie.
"Do what is right. Because it is right." This will be the quote you walk away with, and take with you.


Kal said...

My grandfather served his time in WW2 on Saipan, and ran into only a few Japanese holdouts. Mainly he was waiting to get the word on the invasion of Japan and dreaming of the ladies back home.

He saw quite a bit of nasty stuff left over from the conquest of Saipan, but doesn't talk about it either. Quite a load to dump on a 19 year old, but he turned those experiences into a beautiful life.

Gino said...

my uncle's biggest brag was being boxing champion of guadalcanal.(he was a boxer in HS, and in the service). he got 'hit' on three different island invasions, and then again as a reservist called up for korea(hit at chosin).

he was prouder of his boxing, and never talked about combat.

survived all that, and died of a heart attack walking down the street in las vegas where he retired, 10yrs ago.

little-cicero said...

Clint seems to be the epitome of a moral relativist these days. I haven't seen the movie, but I guess that I, like most Americans, want to look at America's wars as stuggles of good and evil rather than gray and gray.

Of course, if you look at his Westerns, they always reflected a resisitance to romantic absolutism. Hang 'Em High had that very purpose- it was probably the first anti-capital punishment activist movie!

Gino said...

see the movie. you'd love it, and would be moved enough to blog about it.