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Running Time:
2 hours, 21 minutes

Rating: R Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Adult.

Rating Explanation:
for graphic war violence.

Jimmy's Buzz Guide Review:
This is the film we hoped "Flags of our Fathers" would be and wasnít. This is the real thing and it's one of the finest war films ever made.

Additional Info:
DVD Features: " Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters from Iwo Jima"; "The Faces of War: The Cast of Letters from Iwo Jima"; and "Images from the Frontlines: The Photography of Letters from Iwo Jima."

Letters From Iwo Jima
This superior companion to Clint Eastwood's " Flags of Our Fathers," explores that infamous WWII battle from the Japanese soldiers perspective, as they gallantly fight against insurmountable odds. It becomes clear that the battle was not so much a clash of cultures, but a battle of weaponry. Both films share a similar look, with much of the color removed, except for the brilliant explosions and blood. But they each have a distinct focus." Flags of Our Fathers," was told from the American point of view, and focused mainly on the war bond fund-raising tours featuring three of the men who raised the flag in that famous photograph. Most of that film took place back in the States, where the men helped America raise funds to help finance the end of the war. This film focuses on the Japanese soldiers who bravely defended their sacred territory. It's this view that makes "Letters from Iwo Jima" far more emotionally satisying than the earlier film.

Most war films in the past always drew a distinct line between the good and the bad. Here we see that many of the Japanese soldiers were real people and their battles were fought by soldiers who had left their wives and families to fight for their country, much as our men did. Butthe major difference revealed here is that while our soldiers were fighting to stay alive, many of the Japanese were instructed to tell their families good bye and not plan on returning to their homeland.

Overseeing the defense of Iwo Jima for the Japanese is Imperial Army Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe "The Last Samurai"), who had studied in U.S. and knew the power of the American war machine that would be descending on his vulnerable island. Originally a critic of the war with America, he nonetheless pledges to defend his country to the end. Defying the usual tactics of Japanese warfare, Kuribayashi turns what is expected to be a quick and bloody defeat into a month of heroic warfare. Watanabe delivers an exceptionally brilliant performance portraying a General not only at battle with the enemy, but also in conflict with his some of his men and his own emotions.

He orders his commanders to construct 18-mile long tunnels as well as caves and pill boxes for his 20,000 men to use as cover against the oncoming American forces. His officers don't necessarily agree with his unconventional attempt to defend the small island. One of his allies is Lt. Colonel Takeichi Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), who won an Olympic medal in the 1932 Summer Olympic Games, and shares his prized American whiskey with Kuribayashi as they discuss their defense plans. Lt. Ito (Shidou Nakamura) is a more traditional leader, who rejects Kuribayashi's leadership style and favors the Japanese military code that calls for suicide in the face of retreat or defeat. Also central to the story is Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a simple baker who was taken from his family and forced into service. As many of his fellow soldiers look for the right moment to commit suicide, Saigo struggles to stay alive.

The battle sequences were filmed from both the Japanese and American perspectives, filling in some of the gaps left unseen in "Flags of Our Fathers." Much of the film takes place beneath the ground and we're given another view of many of the battle scenes in "Flags."

The pacing of Letters from Iwo Jima is often quite slow, and there's not that much combat footage, but its messages are clear. "Letters" is completely without glamour or glory, yet in its bleakness there is a kind of desperate beauty. This moving story of men being chewed up and spit out by forces beyond their control is the film we hoped "Flags of our Fathers" would be and wasnít. This is the real thing and as such it's one of the finest war films ever made.

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