Starring: Ken Watanabe as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi Kazunari Ninomiya as Saigo Tsuyoshi Ihara as Baron Nishi Ryo Kase as Shimizu Shido Nakamura as Lieutenant Ito Hiroshi Watanabe as Lieutenant Fujita Takumi Bando as Captain Tanida Yuki Matsuzaki as Nozaki Takashi Yamaguchi as Kashiwara Eijiro Ozaki as Lieutenant Okubo Nae as Hanako Saigo Nobumasa Sakagami as Admiral Ohsugi Lucas Elliott as Sam
Special Features: Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters From Iwo Jima – An inside look at the creation of the film with all key players. The Faces of Combat: The Cast of Letters From Iwo Jima – Cast members introduce the characters they portray in the film. Images from the Frontlines: The Photography of Letters From Iwo Jima – A still photo montage. November 2006 World Premiere at Budo-kan in Tokyo November 2006 Press Conference
Other Info: Widescreen Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Japanese Language English, French, and Spanish Subtitles Running Time: 140 Minutes
Synopsis: The following is from the official DVD description:
“The Powerful Companion to ‘Flags of Our Fathers.’
From Academy Award®-winning director Clint Eastwood comes the untold story of the Japanese soldiers who defended their homeland against invading American forces during World War II. With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima itself, the unprecedented tactics of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai) and his men transform what was predicted to be a swift defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat. Their sacrifices, struggles, courage and compassion live on in the taut, gripping film Rolling Stone calls “unique and unforgettable.””
“Letters From Iwo Jima” is rated R for graphic war violence.
The Movie: Between “Flags of Our Fathers” and its companion film “Letters From Iwo Jima,” I think the latter is the more interesting. I can’t think of too many films that look at World War II from the perspective of the Japanese. I’m sure they’re out there, but I haven’t seen them (beyond “Empire of the Sun”). The Japanese position in WWII is so politically and culturally unique it’s surprising it hasn’t been explored more often. It’s also unusual to see Americans charging up the beaches of Iwo Jima as the enemy. The twist in perspective is so unique that it alone makes this film worth checking out.
That being said, this film is agonizingly slow in parts. The plot slows to a crawl in the first 45 minutes or so as each of the characters is developed. By the time the Americans begin their invasion, you’re rattled awake. The pace picks up and slows down from there on out. And while this movie features a lot of flashbacks, they aren’t to the confusing extent of “Flags of Our Fathers.”
Ken Watanabe leads the cast as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He does a fine job of portraying the man as a strategist ahead of his peers. But much like the film itself, he is restrained in his performance.
The Extras: At first glance, it looks like there are a lot of bonus features on this DVD. Once you dig deeper, you find they aren’t as substantial as you’d first expect. “Red Sun, Black Sand” is your standard ‘making of’ featurette and it lasts 21 minutes. It covers the writing, the research, the costumes, and other typical fare. This is followed by the 18 minute featurette “The Faces of Combat” which contains interviews with the cast of the movie. All of the major cast members are interviewed (though you must turn on the subtitles to understand what they’re saying). Next up is “Images from the Frontlines: The Photography of Letters From Iwo Jima”. It is a 3 minutes slide show of photos from the movie. Rounding things out is 16 minutes of footage from the World Premiere at Budo-kan in Tokyo and 24 minutes from the November 2006 Press Conference.
Unfortunately, you won’t find any commentary, special effects featurette, or deleted scenes included here. Maybe another special edition will be released in the future.
The Bottom Line: “Letters From Iwo Jima” is a war movie unlike any seen in recent memory. The twist of telling it from the Japanese perspective makes it well worth checking out.