Flags of our Fathers was the first of the one-two punch movies, Clint Eastwood made about a special moment in War World II. It was a good punch, though it hurt less than it meant to since all that time jumping and a bit of a formulaic approach weakened the narration. Nevertheless it was a war flick about the people, not the flamboyant pseudo-patriotic ideas and the message was clear: war means hurt but along with the participants, suffers also the truth.
The second punch of the seventy something years old creator is another film about the battle of Iwo Jima but from the Japanese perspective where the enemy is America. There isn’t much to say about the plot. Eastwood focuses on a few of the 20000 that defended that dry piece of land, putting them in critical situations mostly out of the real fights. In that context, the various characters are presented better and the similarities with their enemies are more clear than ever.
General Tadamichi Kuribayashi arrives to organize the defense on the isle. He is at the top on the chain of command and has received military education in America leaving a lot of friends behind just before the war. His ways aren’t popular among his more traditional inferior officers. He cherishes human life and avoids suicide missions. The others consider that a disgrace. On the other end, the bottom of the ladder, we find Saigo, a simple villager, an ex-baker who insists on finding this war futile risking his head as a possible traitor. They meet three times through the movie. Those two understand each other and connect in a special way.
Two more characters are highlighted as exceptions to the Japanese suicidal dedication. But Shimizu is just a coward and Baron Nishi an aristocrat Olympic athlete who wasn’t raised as the average Japanese. Kuribayashi and Saigo are sensitive and clever. An educated man and a simpleton baker share a similar approach to that war’s irrationality showing logic has nothing to do with intellect, wealth or class. Their balance is their family back home and their letters are written in a similar tone also; family, the way master Yasujiro Ozu silently emphasized.
It’s pointless to talk about the cinematography, the actors and the general feel this film has. Clint Eastwood is an established film-maker so he would never bust on a simple and flowing narration like this.
During my army duty I participated in a lot of irrational things only for the sake of companionship and nothing else. Some people like to stare at the larger picture, others stick to the little details. Often, it’s the difference between humane and savage.