Movies: Letters from Iwo Jima

So a post on Digg about the top war movies had me interested in one to watch. The movie was mad back in 2006. Yeah about ten years behind the times on this one.

But the movie in essence showed the Japanese side of the conflict over the island of Iwo Jima.

I mean we’re all familiar with this iconic photo of a group of U.S. Marines raising the United States flag on Iwo Jima:


But this time as I said, the movie portrayed the  OTHER side – namely Japanese Imperial Army soldiers and sailors. It’s at about the time in 1945 where we’ve pretty much smashed the Imperial Navy and their air capabilities. So it’s at the very end of the line.

Anyhow elements of the movie begins with the arrival on Iwo Jima of one of the Generals who trained in the United States named  Kuribayashi.

General Kuribayashi’s  first act is to stop a Japanese Lieutenant from ordering his men to dig ditches on the beach. It is here we meet one of the main characters in the story – a Japanese Imperial Army soldier named Saigo, a Baker by trade who has some issues with the Japanese tradition of honor.

Now I’ll say this – the movie gives just a shallow view into the horrors of World War II but it is utterly horrific. In one part a Japanese medic is ordered to treat an injured American soldier named Sam. The leader of the group can speak some English and he learns the injured man’s name, where he was from. But in the morning Sam has passed away but the leader finds a letter and can read it – he reads it to his troops. It’s a letter from Sam’s mother – detailing the goings on back home in Oklahoma. One of the Japanese troops says to his squad mate “That’s a letter like one I’d get from my mother.” and how he was taught that American’s were savages. This dialog really got to me:

Baron Nishi: [reading the letter from the mother of Sam, the dead marine] And always do what’s right because it’s right.

Lieutenant Okubo: Shall I finish him off?
Baron Nishi: No. Treat him.
Lieutenant Okubo: But, sir…
Baron Nishi: Okubo, you would expect the same, wouldn’t you? Endo, treat him.
Medic Endo: We are low on morphine as it is.
Shimizu: Sir, the Americans would not treat a wounded Japanese soldier.
Baron Nishi: Son, have you ever met one? Treat him.
[Shimizu is lost for words]

Baron Nishi: This is a picture of me and my horse champion.
Sam: [Sam smiles and chuckles] No kidding. Oklahoma, it’s where I’m from.
Baron Nishi: Takeichi.
Sam: Sam.
[Both men shake hands]

This part is important BTW and we’ll return to it.

Later in the film when the battle begins we see a machine gunner in a Japanese pill box have his arm blown off. And let me tell you that was pretty grotesque with spurting blood and all.

And you have this wacko Lieutenant urging Saigo to go up and take the machine gunners place. Nope, that’s not happening.

And one thing that stunned me, it was all CGI but the U.S. naval ships pounding the crap out of Iwo  Jima was impressive. Now I know what the huge guns on ships are used for, to soften a target.

A bit later we find out Shimizu isn’t a Japanese spy sent to root out anti-Imperial thought, but an elite soldier who crossed his commander.

And at the very end, Saigo and another troop surrender to the American Marines. At first you feel good when the leader of the group offers Saigo and his friend water, and treats them humanely. But then the Marine group needs to move on and they leave two of their mates behind to guard the Japanese troops.

It’s at that point that one Marine says to another “We’re sitting ducks out here” and the other says “I know how to take care of this and shoots Saigo’s friend and then Saigo realizes quite late I might add that he’s about to die. He backs away and raises his hands but the Marine shoots him anyhow.

Two things I took out of this movie – we were bigger bastards than the Japanese ever imagined possible.

And two – we are the savages the Japanese back then were taught about. Of course I’m sure if you ask the people o Manchuria they’d say the same of the Japanese.


2 thoughts on “Movies: Letters from Iwo Jima

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