Clint Eastwood’s companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima tells the story of that battle from the Japanese perspective and does a damn fine job of it too. Eastwood did extensive research before starting filming, and in this research he encountered actual letters that Japanese soldiers had written to their families. As the title suggests, these letters are central to the film. They are used to propel the narrative by facilitating flashbacks into the characters’ lives before the battle, thereby giving an American audience an entry point into a foreign culture.
All of the performances are strong, but Ken Watanabe displays his range as he finally gets a showcase for his extensive talents. The filmmakers have drained what little color the black sand on this volcanic island possessed and the battle scenes truly look like they are taking place on another world, a world that mostly looks like hell. But more than just saying “war is hell,” Letters offers a bold, nuanced depiction of war and the men who fought.