Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima (Clint Eastwood, 2006) [6]

I always have an issue with people making movies about a foreign culture. Not to get all theoretical but the idea of "the other" always pops up in American cinema when addressing other cultures. This is always more true about the Orient (see Edward Said). While I don't begrudge Eastwood for tackling the battle of Iwo Jima from the Japanese perspective, I was wary of this film to say the least. I have no real interest in seeing Flags of Our Fathers so I have no counterpoint to compare to this film. It's well made and is certainly stronger in its first half. By the end however, it becomes too repetitive in its themes. Everything always comes back to the Japanese fighting to their death, the honor of dying coming above survival. We get the character of Saigo to be the argument of this point. The problem with him is that I think Eastwood and Haggis are making him the rational, and therefore American voice in the film. From a Western way of thinking, no soldier would would think of committing suicide on the battlefield. Even though they may not have intended for him to be this way, Saigo is there to show this idea of the other. It just seems to emphasize this displacement of thinking between American and Japanese thought of warfare. Eastwood has made a good standard war film but these ideas keep poking around my head as I watch it. Other critics say that the Americans are the enemy in this film but not really. Outside of Saigo and General Kuribayashi, there is no strong identification with the Japanese side. Even though the film is of the Japanese fight of Iwo Jima, Eastwood can't keep an American perspective out of it. He may be reverential to the Japanese, but he still makes the viewer question why they would fight the way they did. It's not something that makes the film bad, but it leaves some holes that are never really filled.

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