Magazine article The Spectator

Elegy to Futility

Magazine article The Spectator

Elegy to Futility

Article excerpt

Letters from Iwo Jima 15, Nationwide

You know, prior to taking up this beat, I simply would not have gone to see a second world war film at the cinema. First world war, yes, and the Spanish Civil War, and the Napoleonic. . . nope, come to think of it, I would not have gone to see a war film, full stop. They are for boys, aren't they? I mean, nothing draws men together better than killing other men, and nothing draws male audiences together better than watching those men killing other men. War films may even be the male equivalent of the chick flick, making them what exactly? Dick flicks? But Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima -- and I'm as shocked as anyone to hear myself saying this -- is as deeply affecting as it is absorbing. The two hours and 20 minutes seemed like no time at all. Astonishing, when you consider there are no shots of Daniel Craig in his baby-blue Speedos.

Not the one.

Letters is Eastwood's companion piece to Flags of our Fathers -- a sort of Private Ryan Lite, or so I'm told -- and covers the same historical event: the 1945 battle between the Americans and Japanese for Iwo Jima, the Japanese, volcanic island important for the US as a strategic base.

But while Flags of our Fathers told the story from an American point of view, this is from the Japanese point of view and is entirely in Japanese with subtitles. Is it audacious, an American director (Eastwood) and an American producer (Spielberg) making an American film in which the Americans are 'the enemy'? I don't know. It is certainly very un-Oliver Stone. That much I do know.

This film is not a celebration of effort, courage, triumph or 'brothers-in-action'.

Instead, it's an elegy; a sorrowful and, at times, savagely beautiful elegy to futility and the waste of human lives, an abomination in all wars and all battles, but especially in this one. Of the 20,000 Japanese troops, 18 000 died and 216 were captured, while the Allied forces suffered 7,000 deaths, nearly a third of all marine deaths in the second world war.

Letters opens with Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a private in the Japanese Imperial Army, and formerly a baker, digging beach trenches. He says, 'I might as well be digging my own grave.' As he might. The Japanese are hampered by dysentery, insufficient ammunition, inadequate supplies and government abandonment. We know theirs is a tragically lost cause, that there is only one outcome and that it is defeat. …

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