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Letters From Iwo Jima
is the 2006 P.O.V. Sequel
to Flags of Our Fathers
, which was also directed by Clint Eastwood
, providing a Perspective Flip
to Imperial Japan
, the antagonists of the first film. It was widely well received and is commonly seen as being even better than its well-received predecessor.
Inspired by the book Picture Letters from the Commander and Chief
, a compilation of whimsically illustrated letters sent by the Japanese commander of the Iwo Jima garrison to his family, the film explores the back stories of some of Iwo Jima's doomed defenders (fewer then 1% would ultimately survive) in the form of their last letters home — letters written but never sent.
This film provides examples of:
- Better to Die than Be Killed: The "honourable" way of doing things according to the Empire, which includes ordering the entire battalion to go on a hopeless suicide mission. Many soldiers are clearly unhappy about this. Not that it stops them.
- Body Horror: One man dies sitting upright with half his face gone during an air raid. There are also various limbs lost during the battle itself, people attacked with flamethrowers, blown up at point blank range...
- Combat Pragmatist: Kuribayashi withdraws his men from the beaches to fight from caves and tunnels rather then wasting them in the pointless (but honorable) suicide attacks his subordinates would prefer. Saigo also holds little truck with "honorable suicide" for various reasons and prefers unconventional tactics (compared to IJA standards) in the field. Needness to say, this doesn't make him too popular with some of his fellow soldiers.
- Continuity Nod: The torture of a captured Marine is a reference to Iggy's death in Flags of Our Fathers. Similarly, the scene in Flags where Doc sees an unseen horror in a cave runs on from a scene in Letters where some Japanese soldiers commit seppuku with hand grenades.
- Cue the Sun: At the end of the battle the sun dawns red over the sea, perhaps symbolising that despite the loss Iwo Jima will always belong to Japan... or that Japan will always remember her own, wherever they fell, and for whatever cause.
- Dirty Coward: Lieutenant Ito. tries to force his troops to accompany him in a reckless suicide attack, before leaving alone to attempt to take out a tank. Instead he pretends to be dead until the battle's over. And this is after he nearly kills Saito and Shimizu for following orders and retreating.
- An alternate interpretation was that he was hoping a tank was going to run over the dead men he was lying with. (US Tanks frequently ran over Japanese "corpses" to ensure they weren't just playing dead.) He kept asking where the tanks were, had explosives strapped to his chest, and seemed to go mad when they didn't come. This is based on a true story of a survivor who spent two days lying in the sun playing dead before he finally decided he didn't want to die.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: Everyone except Saigo and possibly Lieutenant Ito dies.
- Fatal Family Photo: One soldier often seen looking at his family photographs later commits suicide with a grenade, splashing them with blood.
- A Father to His Men: General "I will always be right in front of you" Kuribayashi.
- Foregone Conclusion: We already know how the Battle of Iwo Jima ends. Their orders were not to win... only to kill ten Americans apiece before they themselves were killed. This can give the illusion that the Japanese are Genre Savvy.
- Hopeless War: You realize the full extent of how hopeless it is for the Japanese when the film shows the American fleet: thousands of ships (including various battleships and carriers), transporting marines in overwhelming numbers and all the air and artillery support they need.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: When Saigo is ordered to defend a destroyed machine gun emplacement with his rifle, he responds by cocking it in his commanding officer's direction. The officer quickly rethinks the order.
- Imperial Japan: The film's protagonists.
- Just Like Us: Shimizu and the others discover this after they talk with a captured American soldier and read a letter from his mother.
- Meaningful Name: Saigo's name can mean "last", as in the last one left alive.
- The captured American soldier whose wounds they treat is called Sam.
- Last Stand: A given. Their only options were; die fighting; commit suicide; or be executed for treason.
- The MacGuffin: the bag of letters written by Japanese soldiers on the island found by modern day archeologists in a cave. They were originally hidden by Saigo just before the end of the movie.
- Minion with an F in Evil: Shimizu just couldn't shoot the dog.
- My Country, Right or Wrong: Kuribayashi (and the American general), in a scene at a dinner in the US.
Kuribayashi: "I would have to follow my convictions."
American friend: "You mean your convictions or your country's convictions?"
Kuribayashi: "Are they not the same?"
American friend: (smiles, nods) "Spoken like a true soldier"
American wife: "Oh that's awful, Bernie, it means that you're dead."
- My Girl Back Home: Mostly Saigo's young wife Hanako, whom he writes to, and is shown begging him not to leave. They also have a baby daughter he's never met.
- The Neidermeyer: Lieutenant Ito.
- Captain Tanida embodies this trope even more. In every one of his scenes, he is depicted brutally bullying the soldiers under his command in some form or another. In particular, he seems to enjoy making Pvt. Saigo's life a living hell. Hell, in his final act alive, he orders his troops to commit suicide. There's a guy you want to work for!
- Non-Action Guy: Saigo can't even handle a rifle properly, and the only reason he survives is because he's smart/cowardly enough to hang back from wherever there's violence. Kuribayashi mistakes his survival instincts for fighting skills and is corrected. Kuribayashi later takes advantage of Saigo's survival instincts by entrusting him with the bag of letters.
- No Kill Like Overkill: The pre-invasion bombardment. By one reckoning the US expended more than 26 tons of munitions for every Japanese soldier on the island over the course of the battle, from 16 inch down to .45 ACP. A rare example of the protagonist on the receiving end.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene: The bayoneting of the American soldier who got into the cave, as well as the execution of two surrendered Japanese soldiers by a pair of bored Americans who were expressly ordered to keep them under guard.
- Oh Crap: Saigo is sent outside to empty the latrine bucket and discovers the ocean is literally covered with American warships from horizon to horizon—just in time for the opening gun of one of the largest naval bombardments in history.
- Perspective Flip
- P.O.V. Sequel
- The Promise: Saigo promises his unborn baby that he will return home alive. He apparently keeps it.
- Proud Warrior Race Guy: Baron Nishi represents the noble side of the Japanese warrior tradition in direct contrast to Lt. Ito.
- Punch Clock Villain: Saigo, who is specifically shown to be a unwilling draftee. He's also never shown actually fighting against the Americans, perhaps to ensure he retains the target audience's sympathy
- Shoot the Dog: A literal example.
- Nishi's horse Jupiter to some extent.
- Shoot the Medic First: Lt. Ito shows tells his men to target medics because enemy soldiers will sacrifice themselves to save them.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Leaning a fair bit more to the cynical side.
- State Sec: The Kempeitai.
- Tragic Hero: Kuribayashi, both in the movie and in real life. Sent to Iwo Jima because of his "soft" attitudes, suspected American sympathies and advocacy of "defeatist" defensive tactics, Kuribayashi inspired his men to use those defensive tactics to inflict more casualties on his American friends then any other Japanese general. His American opponent General Howland M. "Howling Mad" Smith called him "The most redoubtable foe" while to the common soldier he was the "Best damn general on this stinking island" and "Let's hope the Japs don't have any more like him."
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Several incidents, such as Lt. Ito's poignantly pathetic anti-tank strategy, are taken straight from the pages of history. Others, such as the blinding of Lt. Colonel Nishi, were rumored but could never be confirmed. No one knows what really happened to General Kuribayashi as no surviving witnesses ever came forward.
- War Is Hell: And this is the Ninth Circle.
- Yanks with Tanks: The film's antagonists.