Clint Eastwood | 135 mins | DVD | 15 / R
Companion to Flags of Our Fathers, and widely considered the better of the two, showing the same battle from the Japanese perspective.
Letters focuses on the human angle, getting to know the characters as they prepare for battle (the Americans don’t arrive for almost an hour) and through flashbacks. The film aims to humanise ‘The Enemy’ but only succeeds in showing that there were some good people in a society of old-fashioned ideas; the obsession with pointless suicide over genuine use of men may be true, but still seems savage and unpractical (probably more a flaw of the real military attitude than of the film, then). No character who follows this is a good guy; likable ones survive or are Westernised. The Americans we see are a mix too (one shoots captured soldiers for no reason, for example), but this feels like a hollow attempt to depict the filmmakers’ countrymen equally rather than genuinely aiding the concept of the Japanese as good guys.
The action sequences and cinematography owe a lot to Saving Private Ryan — desaturation is becoming a war film cliché. That said, it works here, fitting the bland sandy environment and emphasising bursts of colour from blood and flames.
A mixed film then, the value of which lies not in presenting a view of war, humanity or Japanese culture, but in providing a view (or, indeed, half a view) of this one particular battle.
My thoughts on the first half of this pair can now be read here.