The story of Letters From Iwo Jima centres on Saigo, a young baker who is conscripted into defending the island as the last line of defence against the advancing American forces.
The Japanese “forces” are shown as a dishevelled, barely equipped and starving rag-tag collection of survivors huddled in underground caves, overwhelmed by the collective might of the US navy and suffering at the hands of fanatical commanding officers who are all too willing to commit “honourable” suicide. In a brave move, Clint Eastwood chooses to show the invasion of Japan from their perspective, and not only that but actually uses Japanese actors speaking in Japanese; the entire film is subtitled. This is a very human war story, centring far more on the beautifully written and totally believable characters than individual politics. It’s a wonderfully understated film, the performances first rate, the cinematography a stunning blend of documentary and artful visuals and it’s accompanied by a haunting but subtle soundtrack. It’s a million miles from the button pushing contrivances of most war films; probably because it was made by a member of the “enemy” nation and that’s what makes it work so well as a very personal story. Saigo is shown as another human being, just as the American troops are; some are murderous and selfish, others kindhearted humanitarians. Which side they were on is irrelevant.
But the main thought it raised with me was this: if this was the best “resistance” the Japanese had to offer, it seriously calls into question the strategic value of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.