Letters from Iwo Jima is one of the few movies which talks about the view of the Japanese who has been tagged as the ‘enemy’ during the Second World War. It is typical of war movies to emphasize soldiers as heroes and its enemies as the depiction of evil and this kind of plot has mostly been celebrated in the movie industry. Similarly, the course of history to those countries that has been affected by imperial Japan, the cruelty of the Japanese conquest during World War II remains as a nightmare for humanity. Thus, the Japanese has retained the image of a cold and brutal military faction that should never occur again, making them the villain of WWII both in real life and in films.
However, by means of this film, an American director attempted to bring a balanced view for both parties. Both camps have its own heroes and villains within, suffering the same atrocity of war. Being a rare – if not the only one – Japanese war movie to be released in the mainstream and directed by an American, there are some known facts from the WWII that are challenged by this film. For one, the Pacific War is famously dubbed as the “War with Japan,” giving the impression that it is a battle of the world against the imperial Asian nation. The film portrayed otherwise, since Japanese soldiers are the central characters on this film, it depicted a battles which can be compared to David & Goliath – with the Japanese as the small David.
The comparison from the previous paragraph is derived from the film’s plot regarding the anticipated fall of Iwo Jima. Despite of the expected defeat, the Japanese soldiers did not surrender to the massive number of American battalions of soldiers and warships. Led by General Kuribayashi, he discouraged his soldiers to commit suicide or to undergo a banzai attack. In this way, they are able to maximize the casualties of the Americans by continuously fighting. The infamous suicidal attacks of the Japanese during the war have been opposed by the film.
As previously mentioned, the war crimes that have been committed by the soldiers of the imperial Japanese presented these men as the ultimate criminal of the Pacific War. The film has depicted the human side of a soldier and suggested that the Japanese soldiers who are bounded without a choice to fight until death despise the war and see it as a costly game benefiting only the few. The ‘devil’ of the Pacific war acquired humanistic attributes who knows fear & affection. Aside from defying the evil image of Japanese soldiers that has been instilled in the minds of Western history book readers; the film gave war a ‘soul’ imbibed by the soldiers, American and Japanese alike. It can be said that the aim of the film is to gain sympathy for the so-called enemy of the war, but this film simply obscured the wall of racial distinction. It just tells that everyone is a victim in and of war.
The main participants in the Pacific War were the United States and Japan. The film basically challenged the well-publicized glory of the American battles by means of heroic depictions in media. Letters from Iwo Jima gave a heroic status to the enemy of the United States during the war, emphasizing on the outstanding strategies of General Kuribayashi and the courageous intent of survival and death of the supporting characters. The hatred that was produced because of war rooted from these racial battles and until the present, the prejudice which originated from these wars has been retained. For so many years, the prejudice of the Japanese soldiers as faceless and heartless enemies of world history has long been dominating the international community, which eventually became a fact.
This film has established an identity for Japanese soldiers that are not different from the Americans. It gives a sense of equality in the middle of the darkest hours of human history. Everyone has suffered from the grim consequence of war no matter whose victory is it to claim. The fact that the war on Iwo Jima is one of the hardest battles to win for the Americans; it is the narration of the Japanese soldiers who fought for their homeland with equal passion and fervor, just like their American counterpart.
Eastwood, Clint., Spielberg, Steven., & Lorenz, R. (Producers). Eastwood, Clint. (Director). (2007). Letters from Iwo Jima [Motion picture]. Warner Blvd., CA: Warner Home Video.