Over the past couple weeks I have watched two WWII movies at the recommendation of a friend (or, kind of two… Amy wrote about it on her blog loooong ago, but Marie is the friend I was referring to…). She asked if we had seen Letters from Iwo Jima, to which I replied, “No, what’s it about?” She explained that it was sort of a companion to Flags of Our Fathers (which reminded me of Amy’s post, about her friends being in the movie…) and from Marie’s description, it sounded like they were both worth the watch.
I started with Flags since it was the first one made. It was a good movie. Interesting story angle. The focus was on a field medic (not sure that’s really his title… he’s the guy who goes out in the middle of a battle to treat/rescue fallen soldiers) who finds himself shipped across the country along with two other “heroes” from Iwo Jima just because he was named as one of the (now famous) flag raisers. (You know that famous statue/photo with those Marines hoisting the American flag together? Yeah, that one.)
It was interesting to think of how desperately America needed heroes. The story goes that the guys the US gov’t paraded around did not feel like heroes, or want to be heroes. But in the end, I think they were presented as that, and most people would still consider them that.
As for the story of the battle at Iwo Jima. Just nuts! Intense, insane fighting on a tiny little island off the southern coast of Japan. It was crucial to the war, and it’s capture likely helped the US finish the war not much later.
As all war movies, it was just a completely unfathomable environment. The most memorable scene was where the aforementioned medic is in the middle of the battlefield, attempting to treat an American soldier, when out of nowhere comes a Japanese soldier. He lunges at the medic with a knife, but the medic avoids him, and instead is able to use his own knife to stab the Japanese soldier. For a poignant moment, the medic looks the Japanese solider in the eye, the camera has panned out to show the wounded American soldier right next to the now dying Japanese solider. Similar wounds, but the medic is (understandably) trying to kill one, and save the other. It was a very “human” moment in the chaos.
Now the interesting part of the double feature was that the second movie was about the same battle, but from the opposite perspective. Letters is the story as the Japanese saw it. It was filmed almost entirely in Japanese. I thought it was such an interesting idea (the story of an American battle told from the “enemy’s” point of view) that I was very much looking forward to watching the second part, maybe more than the first.
It did not disappoint. I thought using the letters from Japanese soliders was a great way to show the humanity of the “enemy” soldiers. I’m sure the easier thing to do in war is to demonize the enemy… and that is what both sides did. There was a cool moment in the movie where a commander of one Japanese unit decides to save and treat a wounded American soldier. His men want to “finish” the Marine, but this commander – who spent some time in America – wanted to “do what is right”. He talks to the young Marine, gets to know a little about him. Not much later, the Marine dies of his wounds. The commander found a letter on him from his mother. He reads it aloud (in Japanese… pretty good translating…) 🙂 to his soldiers. The end of the letter says, “Remember to do what is right. Just because it’s right.” Another very “human” moment.
Overall I thought both movies did a good job of revealing that we are pretty much the same. Yes as different cultures we do have different priorities and slight differences, but really… we all bleed. We all die. We all fear. We all love. It was an insanely sad event in the history of our planet, but it seems like overall good came from it. Still, watching both movies, you just want to say, “Work it out, boys!”
I will never understand war. I don’t suppose any of us will. War movies and books are just fascinating to me for that reason. It’s beyond my comprehension how we can so lower the humanity of another person that we are able to kill so many. I know you probably just “do what you have to do”, but still… how crazy.
Flags and Letters were both excellent re-tellings of the events at Iwo Jima in WWII, and I do recommend you watch them. Obviously, they are graphic. So, be warned. But the storie are well told, and compelling. And especially Letters is such a fascinating experience… watching the story from the other side. Good stuff.