FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS / LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (rentals)
Flags of our Fathers
It was always my intent to watch these two films back-to-back, so I opted to wait for the DVD release before seeing either. After watching only the first film, I see that this was the best idea. Flags of our Fathers is a good film obviously, but it felt much like a setup to the second half. Would it have felt so if I didn’t know about its counterpart, I don’t know. But because I anticipated another chapter, I had the distinct feeling of incompleteness in Flags. Each time a scene showed the American soldiers investigating the mountain outposts of the Japanese, I couldn’t help but wonder what the Japanese soldiers might be thinking, and then wondering if those questions would be answered in the second film. Much of this first film made me want to see the “rest of the story”. I might have enjoyed Flags more had this feeling not settled in so quickly.
Flags of our Fathers is a melancholy film, a story of loss, regret, bewilderment and sorrow. This thread ran through not only the scenes of life after the battles of Iwo Jima, but also through the battle scenes themselves. Even the moments of wit and humor were subtle and sad. Couple these with the gray coloring of the actual images, and the film simply bore heavily upon me during its two hours. I didn’t expect to feel jubilant during the movie, but I have to wonder at the heaviness that enveloped me even after the narrator spoke of hope and redemption. In the end, I was thankful for some better understanding of the events surrounding the iconic moment in history, but felt no lingering affection for the film itself.
Letters from Iwo Jima
By contrast, there is not a moment of Iwo Jima that does not resonate with palpable emotion. There is hope spoken amidst the reality of their fatal duty; there is passion in their words that I did not feel from the American actors in the first film. Perhaps it’s the beauty of the Japanese language, or perhaps it’s the effect of reading a movie while hearing it. No matter the reason, I was moved much more by Letters from Iwo Jima than I was by its companion piece.
The strength of Iwo Jima lies in its two main protagonists, General Kuribayashi (played by the phenomenal Ken Watanabe) and reluctant soldier Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya). As the story is punctuated by their letters to loved ones, the film warrants empathy for the Japanese soldiers. It’s an unusual feeling to find oneself moved by those in opposition to your own countrymen, but never while rooting for the Japanese soldiers did I feel unpatriotic toward America. I simply felt such sorrow for these men who were only following the conviction and beliefs of their own culture while also hoping to return to a life of love and joy and simplicity. Never did I feel this for their American counterparts in Flags, and I must wonder if I was biased against the film or if I was just charmed by a people about whom I know little more than movies have shown me. To be sure, Iwo Jima is a beautiful film with enormous heart, and I can give only praise to director Clint Eastwood for taking such a risk as this story and shaping it into the most memorable of the two films. I could easily return to this second film many times in my life, and I would never feel as if I was seeing anything less than a complete story.
image from Rotten Tomatoes