Flags of Our Fathers
starring Ryan Philippe, Jesse Bradford, Adam Beach, John Benjamin Hickey, John Slattery, Barry Pepper, Jamie Bell and Paul Walker
screenplay by William Broyles, Jr., and Paul Haggis
directed by Clint Eastwood
Letters From Iwo Jima
starring Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Ryo Kase and Shidou Nakamura
screenplay by Iris Yamashita
directed by Clint Eastwood
Everyone has heard about these two films. Both are based on books: Flags of Our Fathers is based on the book by James Bradley, son of one of the U.S.marine flag raisers on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima; Letters From Iwo Jima is based is based on the book Picture Letters from Commander in Chief by Tadamich Kuribayashi, son of the Japanese commander of the island during the famous 1945 battle. Letters From Iwo Jima won the best foreign language Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards. I don’t know if it was deserved because I did not see any other non-English films. But I won’t argue the point. It was an intense, well made, interesting film, and much better, I thought, than the English-language Flags of Our Fathers, which was released first.
There are a couple of interesting things to note. First, Letters From Iwo Jima opens with contemporary Japanese excavators digging for remains in the abandoned tunnels on the island, especially those on Mt.Suribachi itself. This is true. Every summer such expeditions take place. The Japanese lost over 20,000 soldiers in that battle, the majority of whose remains remain undiscovered and buried inside their wartime tunnels. During the war Japanlost about two million military and civilian people, compared with a little over 400,000 for the Americans. As always, the fact that the war was not fought on or over American territory spared the U.S.the losses suffered by the Soviet Union, Britain, France, Poland, Germany itself,Chinaand Japan.
Second, Flags of Our Fathers features/exposes the story of the war bonds propaganda drive by the American War Department using survivors of the famous flag raising. Everyone knows that photograph because it is iconographic. I am betting that information in the script concerning America’s financial situation in the prosecution of the war is actually factually true. We think of America as this great industrial powerhouse whose factories and farms put out enough to win the fiercest of wars on two fronts simultaneously, emerging as a Superpower in the wars aftermath that left European powers in ruins. What this movie tells is a tale of a nearly bankrupt America unable to raise any more money for the war and, consequently, only months away from having to meet Japan at the negotiating table for a negotiated ceasefire. That is an extremely different picture from what we usually imagine - an amazingly powerful, nuclear-armed Americahoping successfully from one Pacific island to another progressively overwhelming and beating back the Japanese.