Letters From Iwo Jima: Special Edition (Dbl DVD) (WS)
Nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima tells the untold story of the Japanese soldiers who defended their homeland against invading American forces during World War II. With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of Iwo Jima itself, the unprecedented tactics of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai) and his men transform what was predicted to be a swift defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat. Their sacrifices, struggles, courage and compassion live on in the taut, gripping film Rolling Stone calls "unique and unforgettable." It is the powerful companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers.
Critically hailed as an instant classic, Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima is a masterwork of uncommon humanity and a harrowing, unforgettable indictment of the horrors of war. In an unprecedented demonstration of worldly citizenship, Eastwood (from a spare, tightly focused screenplay by first-time screenwriter Iris Yamashita) has crafted a truly Japanese film, with Japanese dialogue (with subtitles) and filmed in a contemplative Japanese style, serving as both complement and counterpoint to Eastwood's previously released companion film Flags of Our Fathers. Where the earlier film employed a complex non-linear structure and epic-scale production values to dramatize one of the bloodiest battles of World War II and its traumatic impact on American soldiers, Letters reveals the battle of Iwo Jima from the tunnel- and cave-dwelling perspective of the Japanese, hopelessly outnumbered, deprived of reinforcements, and doomed to die in inevitable defeat. While maintaining many of the traditions of the conventional war drama, Eastwood extends his sympathetic touch to humanize "the enemy," revealing the internal and external conflicts of soldiers and officers alike, forced by circumstance to sacrifice themselves or defend their honor against insurmountable odds. From the weary reluctance of a young recruit named Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) to the dignified yet desperately anguished strategy of Japanese commander Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Oscar-nominated The Last Samurai costar Ken Watanabe), whose letters home inspired the film's title and present-day framing device, Letters from Iwo Jima (which conveys the bleakness of battle through a near-total absence of color) steadfastly avoids the glorification of war while paying honorable tribute to ill-fated men who can only dream of the comforts of home. --Jeff Shannon
On the DVDs
Like the film itself, the two-disc special edition of Letters from Iwo Jima is predominantly Japanese in content, and that's as it should be. Disc 1 presents the film in a flawless widescreen transfer, with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround soundtrack that perfectly captures the film's wide dynamic range. The optional subtitles can be turned off for those wishing to immerse themselves in a completely Japanese viewing experience. Disc 2 opens with "Red Sun, Black Sand: The Making of Letters from Iwo Jima," a 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary that concisely covers all aspects of production, from director Clint Eastwood's initial decision to create a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, to interview comments from principal cast and crew, the latter including Flags screenwriters Paul Haggis and Letters screenwriter Iris Yamashita, costume designer Deborah Hopper, editor Joel Cox, cinematographer Tom Stern, production designer James Murakami (taking over for the ailing Henry Bumstead), and coproducer Rob Lorenz. "The Faces of Combat" is an 18-minute featurette about selecting the Japanese (and Japanese-American) cast of Letters, and how they were chosen through the international collaboration of Eastwood's long-time casting director Phyllis Huffman (who turned over some of her duties to her son while struggling with terminal illness) and Japanese casting associate Yumi Takada, who filled important roles with Japanese celebrities (like pop star Kazunari Ninomiya, who plays "Saigo") and unknown actors alike.
"Images from the Frontlines" is a 3.5-minute montage of images from the film and behind-the-scenes, set to the sparse piano theme of Eastwood's original score. The remaining bonus features chronicle the world premiere of Letters in Tokyo on November 15, 2006. The premiere itself is covered in a 16-minute featurette taped at the famous Budokan arena, where we see the red-carpet procession, a full-capacity audience despite cold November weather, and introductory comments from the film's primary cast and crew, many of them quite moving with regard to the satisfaction of working on a film that helps Japanese viewers come to terms with a painful chapter of their history. The following day's press conference (at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo hotel) is a 24-minute Q&A session covering much of the same territory, with additional testimony from principal cast & crew. Throughout this two-day event, it's clear that Eastwood (referring to himself as "a Japanese director who doesn't speak the Japanese language") was warmly embraced by the Japanese, and that Letters from Iwo Jima had served its intended purpose, reminding us of the horrors of war while uniting both Japanese and Americans in somber reflection, 61 years after the battle of Iwo Jima. --Jeff Shannon