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PCR # 356  (Vol. 8, No. 3)  This edition is for the week of January 15--22, 2007.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"Letters From Iwo Jima"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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The Tampa Film Review For January  by Nolan Canova, Chris Woods, and Terence Nuzum
The First Fanboy Summit of '07 or ED Tucker's Giant Spider Invasion  by Nolan B. Canova
"Letters From Iwo Jima"  by Mike Smith
The Top 20 Albums of 2006  by Terence Nuzum
Putzo's Top 10 Worst Moments in Fandom....The Giant Spider Invasion starring Ed Tucker....Goodbye to Yvonne De Carlo  by Andy Lalino
Whatever Gets You Through The Night....Passing On....Movie News....Awards Time....Oscar Time....Whatever Happened To...? Chapter 3: Dennis Christopher  by Mike Smith
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Warner Brothers     
Starring: Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya and Tsuyoshi Ihara
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 22 mins

What is the rarest achievement in Hollywood? To me, it's a director releasing two GREAT movies in the same year. It doesn't happen often. In 1939, director Victor Fleming won the Best Director Oscar for "Gone With The Wind." His other film that year: "The Wizard of Oz." In 1993, Steven Spielberg FINALLY won a directing Oscar for "Schindler's List," which was released a few months after "Jurassic Park." This past year saw the trifecta begun when Clint Eastwood gave us "Flags Of Our Fathers." And he achieves it with "Letters From Iwo Jima."

To refresh your memories, "Flags Of Our Fathers" dealt with the battle on that Japanese island and the boost given the troops and this country's morale by the classic photograph of the US flag being raised atop Mt. Suribachi. "Letters From Iwo Jima" presents the same battle seen through the eyes of the Japanese, particularly three main characters. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Watanabe) is sent to oversee the foreseen invasion of the island by allied troops. A quiet man who takes an interest in his troops, much of his authority is undermined by his junior officers who see him as a possible American sympathizer because he had spent time in the US. Saigo (Ninomiya), a recently married baker with a baby on the way, is the true witness to the story. When he answers a knock on his door he is greeted with the words, "Congratulations. You have been given the honor to fight for your country." Much more personal than the letters Uncle Sam used to send to draftees. The third soldier is Major Baron Nishi (Ihara), a former Olympic gold medalist (he won the equestrian horse jumping event at the 1932 games in Los Angeles) who is treated with hero worship by his troops. All three men give outstanding performances, giving the soldiers the sense of honor and duty that their country expected of them.

I learned long ago not to be surprised by Clint Eastwood as a director. From his directing debut, "Play Misty For Me" through "Bronco Billy," "Bird" and "Unforgiven," which won him his first Academy Award for directing, Eastwood has established himself as one of the great American film makers EVER. His last two films (not including "Flags"), "Mystic River" and "Million Dollar Baby" earned a combined thirteen Oscar nominations and six awards, including another Best Director award for "Million Dollar Baby." With "Letters From Iwo Jima," Eastwood is at the top of his game. His camera brings you into the underground tunnels the Japanese moved around in, the experience so great it's almost claustrophobic. Small things in large scenes stand out, none more so when, during one battle, we are given the point of view that shows an American flag waving on a hill. What was the prevalent image for the United States for the rest of World War II is nothing more then a blip on the Japanese radar. Rather then demonize the enemy, Eastwood finds the humanity in these soldiers, no more so then when an American GI is wounded and brought into one of the caves. In talking to him, General Kuribabyashi discovers his name is Sam and they speak of America like old friends. After Sam dies of his wounds, a letter to his mother is found on his body. As he reads it, Kuribabyashi realizes that his soldiers, even he himself, has written similar letters. As the battle rages and Kuribabyashi discovers that the help promised him is not coming (dispatches informing him of this end with the phrase "we hope you die honorably"), it is the human side of him that inspires his remaining men.

I should point out that, with a few brief exceptions, the film is entirely in Japanese with subtitles. However, this does not detract from the story and, I would think, make the film even more intense because you HAVE to pay attention. A tale that proves that mothers and sons are the same all over, "Letters From Iwo Jima" is another gem in Eastwood's crown.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "Letters From Iwo Jima"  Four stars

This week's movie review of "Letters From Iwo Jima" is ©2007 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2007, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2007 by Nolan B. Canova.