“Letters from Iwo Jima,” director Clint Eastwood's retelling of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese side, will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, April 27 and Saturday the 28th and again at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 29 at the Smith Opera House, 82 Seneca St.
There's a moment in the film where the profundity of what Eastwood is doing blindsides the audience with a wallop: Japanese Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi (played by Ken Watanabe) emerges from a cave during the fifth day of the battle and spies, a mile or so away, a handful of ant-like figures raising a U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi.
That famous photo was the focus of “Flags of Our Fathers,” Eastwood's first movie about the Battle for Iwo Jima, for which this film is intended as a companion piece.
“Letters” stands as the superior movie, not because it acknowledges the perspective of a once-feared enemy of the United States, but because it's simpler, leaner and more deeply human. It can be brutal, but it's memorable for its sense of impending doom and sadness: The Japanese defending the island pretty much knew that their task was futile.
Eastwood gives us an idea of the range of personalities among the Japanese fighting men. Kuribayashi takes command at the eleventh hour; he's a sympathetic officer who meticulously tries to determine how the island can be defended. He knows that the task may be impossible, but he's motivated by a sense of duty. The relationship between the officer class and the enlisted men in the Japanese Army is one of the more poignant aspects of the film.
There are some, such as Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), an Olympic equestrian at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, who live the imperial tradition as an honorable birthright; others, like Lieutenant Ito (Shidou Nakamura) have made it into a form of fundamentalism that ultimately proves poisonous to the Japanese cause.
“Letters from Iwo Jima” is a sorrowful and savagely beautiful elegy that can stand in the company of the greatest antiwar movies. Rated R, it has a running time of 2:21. Tickets are $5 general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens and are available at the door.