Clint Eastwood presents a reverse mirror view of the World War II battle for Iwo Jima. Just as his Flags of Our Fathers displays the down side of becoming a hero on the winning side, Letters From Iwo Jima peals back the surface of the honor of death on the Japanese side.
Filmed in what can only be called nearly black and white, the film appears at times to be vintage film as the characters dig in prepration for the assault by United States forces. Differences in command style are exposed as one commander begins to understand that just dying for the mother land for no good reason doesn't make sense. The troops dig into caves and tunnels making the taking of the important Pacific Island difficult for the advancing Americans.
While the home front appears to be a solid wall of support for the war, mothers and wives find it difficult to lose their loved ones even if they are considered heros. We also see a compassionate police officer sent to the war zone after he refuses to shoot a dog in-front a child. It's a hint of the anti-military feelings that were growing in Japan during the later part of the war. But most of the soldiers are willing to abide by the code and in one sequence a number commit suicide by holding grenades to their chest.
The letters which are referred to in the title would be over sixty years old and reflect a society that has changed measurably. But the emotion and scope of the events as presented bring us directly into a time in history when wars were supported by the vast majority of people in the homeland. Eastwood's hand allows us to feel we are in the caves defending and if this film is coupled with Flags of Our Fathers, the hell and heroism of the troops is more easily understood.
This experience crushes the John Wayne style of movie war hero similar to Eastwood's academy award winning Unforgiven (which did the same for westerns) and provides insights in its originality as it shows the dark side of the flag raising on Iwo Jima.