Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
Clint Eastwood excels at circumstance over pomp, so it was hardly a shock that the somber Letters From Iwo Jima — a Japanese-language companion to Eastwood’s star-spangled Flags of Our Fathers — proved the better of his 2006 films.
Salutatory sentiments for America’s World War II soldiers will forever retain a value in honoring valor, but Flags found nothing new down that trodden cinematic trail.
Forceful when fulminating violence’s futility, Eastwood boldly met a challenge of portraying Japanese soldiers as more than act-of-war antagonists.
In the first U.S. film to dramatize WWII solely from an enemy perspective, Eastwood and screenwriter Iris Yamashita remarkably straddled a line of vilification and lionization. Depicting Iwo Jima’s desolation and the Japanese soldiers’ doubts demanded a color palette dimmed to sepia when not drained altogether, and Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens’ score underscored minor-key mourning.
While some Japanese commanders ludicrously established kill quotas, soldiers prepared less for battle and more for their demise — tunneling caves that became graves on a rock then devoid of strategic value or citizens to protect.
Swiftly and fatally, this death-shroud despair spreads among the men, led by the pragmatic Gen. Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe). Inside the caves when America lands, young soldier Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya) navigates a hellish gauntlet of violence and expectations to sacrifice himself for a “noble” death.
Modern-day echoes of being snookered into a bad war weren’t lost on Eastwood, and Letters delivered an overwhelmingly powerful eulogy for the death of righteousness in combat on either side of the line.