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Letters from Iwo Jima

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Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Clint Eastwood
Produced by Clint Eastwood
Steven Spielberg
Robert Lorenz
Screenplay by Iris Yamashita
Story by Iris Yamashita
Paul Haggis
Based on Picture Letters from Commander in Chief 
by Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Author)
Tsuyuko Yoshida (Editor)
Starring Ken Watanabe
Kazunari Ninomiya
Tsuyoshi Ihara
Ryō Kase
Nakamura Shidō
Music by Kyle Eastwood
Michael Stevens
Cinematography Tom Stern
Edited by Joel Cox
Gary D. Roach
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 9, 2006 (2006-12-09) (Japan)
  • December 20, 2006 (2006-12-20) (United States)
Running time 141 minutes
Country United States
Language Japanese
Budget $19 million[1]
Box office $68,673,228[1]
Clint Eastwood, Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya and Tsuyoshi Ihara after a screening at the Berlinale 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima (硫黄島からの手紙 Iōjima Kara no Tegami) is a 2006 Japanese-American war film directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood, starring Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya. The film portrays the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers and is a companion piece to Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, which depicts the same battle from the American viewpoint; the two films were shot back to back. Letters from Iwo Jima is almost entirely in Japanese, although it was produced by American companies Warner Bros. Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures, Malpaso Productions, and Amblin Entertainment. After the box office failure of Flags of Our Fathers, DreamWorks sold the United States distribution rights to Warner Bros., who had the international rights.

Letters from Iwo Jima was released in Japan on December 9, 2006 and received a limited release in the United States on December 20, 2006 in order to be eligible for consideration for the 79th Academy Awards. It was subsequently released in more areas of the U.S. on January 12, 2007, and was released in most states on January 19. An English-dubbed version of the film premiered on April 7, 2008. Upon release, the film received considerable acclaim and did much better at the box office than its companion.


In 2005, Japanese archaeologists explore tunnels on Iwo Jima, where they find some letters buried in the soil.

The film flashes back to Iwo Jima in 1944. Private First Class Saigo, a conscripted baker with a wife and young daughter, is beaten by his commanding officer Captain Tanida, after complaining that they should just give the island to the Americans. Tanida is stopped by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who has arrived to take command of the garrison. Kuribayashi tells Tanida not to waste his men.

Kuribayashi is shocked to learn from Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi, a friend and Olympic gold medalist show jumper, that the Japanese Combined Fleet, upon which the island had been depending for support, has been destroyed. The next day, Kuribayashi orders the garrison to begin tunneling defenses under the island. He explains that the United States military will take the beaches quickly, and that only subterranean defenses have a chance for holding out. His subordinate officers protest at the lack of beach fortifications until he informs them of the fate of the Combined Fleet.

Saigo and his fellow troops believe that new arrival Senior Private Shimizu has been sent by the dreaded Kempeitai "to report on treasonous thoughts."

In February 1945, the first American air raids occur. A few days later, U.S. Marines land. Kuribayashi waits until the landing beach is filled with Marines and orders his men to open fire. The Marines suffer heavy casualties, but, as Kuribayashi predicted, the beach defenses are quickly overcome. The attack then turns to the tunnels below Mount Suribachi. While running a message to Colonel Adachi, Saigo overhears the Colonel pleading with Kuribayashi for permission to commit suicide. Kuribayashi refuses, however, and instead orders the Suribachi garrison to retreat to the north caves.

Ignoring the General's orders, Adachi orders his officers and men to kill themselves. Saigo explains Kuribayashi's orders to the contrary but Captain Tanida silences him. At Tanida's order, the soldiers of his unit detonate hand grenades against their stomachs while Tanida shoots himself in the head. Saigo convinces Shimizu that they would better serve the Emperor by continuing to fight. They meet with other survivors of Mount Suribachi, one of whom is incinerated by a U.S. Marine with a flamethrower. They also witness a captured Marine (presumably "Iggy" from Flags of Our Fathers) being beaten and bayoneted to death. Many survivors are killed trying to cross the island above ground amidst heavy fire.

Saigo and Shimizu report to fanatical Navy Lieutenant Ito. Ito prepares to summarily execute them both with his katana for abandoning Mount Suribachi, but Kuribayashi arrives and reprimands Ito for attempting to needlessly kill two soldiers and confirms that he gave the order to evacuate the mountain.

Ignoring orders from Kuribayashi, whom he considers "a weak American sympathizer," Ito plans to lead his men in a massed banzai charge against U.S. positions. He insubordinately berates Colonel Nishi for refusing to take part; however when they arrive at the American lines, he orders them to join Nishi. Ito then straps land mines to himself and walks toward the battle zone, intending to throw himself under a tank.

Saigo announces that he is going to surrender and dares Shimizu to arrest him. To his surprise, Shimizu tells him that he was dishonorably discharged from the Kempeitai after five days of service for disobeying his superior's order to kill a family's barking dog. Saigo is moved and the two become friends.

Nishi's men take a wounded U.S. Marine captive. To the surprise of his men, Nishi orders them to use their scarce morphine to treat the man and converses with him in English. After his death, Nishi finds a letter from the Marine's mother and reads it aloud in Japanese.

Nishi is then blinded by shrapnel when a shell hits the cave. By now, his men are out of shells and ammunition. He orders Lieutenant Okubo to lead his men to regroup with Kuribayashi. Left alone in the cave with his rifle, Nishi removes his boots to pull the rifle trigger with his toe and kills himself.

Shimizu and Saigo plan to surrender together, with Shimizu leaving first pretending to have dysentery. Another soldier asks to join him but they are discovered by Lieutenant Okubo, who shoots the other soldier. Shimizu escapes and surrenders to a marine patrol, meeting another Japanese POW. The American patrol moves on, leaving behind two Marines as guards. As Shimizu and his fellow POW discuss their plans for after the war, one of the Marines shoots them both to avoid having to stand watch over them. The two bodies are found by Lieutenant Okubo, who cites them as a lesson against surrender. Sobbing, Saigo wraps Shimizu's senninbari over his corpse.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Ito, desperate and malnourished, breaks down and returns to the caves. When found by a Marine patrol, he surrenders without incident.

Saigo and the rest of Okubo's patrol are forced to pass through a firefight while retreating to the north of the island; Okubo and several others are killed. The survivors rendezvous with General Kuribayashi, who is impressed that Saigo has come all the way from Mount Suribachi. Kuribayashi is amazed to learn that he has twice saved the Private's life, commenting that things always come in threes. After gathering the rest of his men, the General orders Saigo to stay behind and burn all documents and letters during the final attack rather than join the fighting, thus saving his life a third time. Saigo cannot bring himself to burn his comrades' letters to their families and buries them instead.

Attired as a common infantryman, Kuribayashi launches a final charge at the head of his surviving soldiers, telling them their countrymen will never forget them. Kuribayashi is seriously wounded when shrapnel is lodged in his legs. Fujita, the general's loyal adjutant, drags him away from the battle.

By the next morning, the Japanese forces have been overrun, and the Americans have taken the rest of the island. Beginning to succumb to his wounds, Kuribayashi orders Fujita to behead him. As a weeping Fujita raises his katana, he is shot dead by a Marine sniper.

Private Saigo arrives and the dying General orders his last soldier to bury him where the enemy will never find his body. Then, Kuribayashi draws his M1911 pistol— a gift from an American officer friend before the war. He asks Saigo, "Is this still Japanese soil?" Saigo responds, "Yes, this is still Japan." The General fatally shoots himself and a weeping Saigo drags Kuribayashi's body away for burial.

Meanwhile, a Marine patrol find Fujita's body and the katana. The leader of the patrol, a Marine Lieutenant finds Kuribayashi's pistol and tucks it in his belt as a trophy. They search the area and find Saigo with his shovel. Seeing Kuribayashi's pistol in possession of the enemy, an enraged Saigo begins swinging his shovel at the Marines but is too weak to fight. The Lieutenant orders his men not to shoot him. Instead, he knocks Saigo out with a rifle butt and has him sent by stretcher to the POW camp. Awakening, Saigo glimpses the sun setting over the black sands of the beach and smiles grimly.

The film ends with the Japanese archaeologists finding the letters that Saigo had buried.


Actor Role
Ken Watanabe General Tadamichi Kuribayashi
Kazunari Ninomiya Private First Class Saigo
Tsuyoshi Ihara Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi
Ryō Kase Superior Private Shimizu
Shido Nakamura Lieutenant Ito
Hiroshi Watanabe Lieutenant Fujita
Takumi Bando Captain Tanida
Yuki Matsuzaki Private First Class Nozaki
Takashi Yamaguchi Private First Class Kashiwara
Eijiro Ozaki Lieutenant Okubo
Alan Sato Sergeant Ondo
Nae Yuuki Hanako, Saigo's wife (in a flashback)
Nobumasa Sakagami Admiral Ohsugi
Masashi Nagadoi Admiral Ichimaru
Akiko Shima Lead Woman (in a flashback)
Luke Eberl Sam, wounded American Marine (credited as Lucas Elliot)
Jeremy Glazer American Marine Lieutenant
Ikuma Ando Ozawa
Mark Moses American officer (in a flashback)
Roxanne Hart Officer's wife


The film was originally entitled Red Sun, Black Sand. Although the film is set in Japan, it was filmed primarily in Barstow and Bakersfield in California. All Japanese cast except for Ken Watanabe were selected through auditions. Filming in California wrapped on April 8, and the cast and crew then headed back to the studio in Los Angeles for more scenes before Eastwood, Watanabe and a skeleton crew made a quick one-day trip to Iwo Jima for some on-location shots. Principal photography finished in late 2006.

The filmmakers had to be given special permission from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to film on Iwo Jima, because more than 10,000 missing Japanese soldiers still rest under its soil. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) operates a naval air base on Iwo Jima, which is used by the United States Navy for operations such as nighttime carrier landing practice. Civilian access to the island is restricted to those attending memorial services for fallen American Marines and Japanese soldiers.

The battleship USS Texas (BB-35), which was used in closeup shots of the fleet (for both movies) also participated in the actual attack on Iwo Jima. The only character to appear in both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima is Charles W. Lindberg, played by Alessandro Mastrobuono.


The film is based on the non-fiction books "Gyokusai sōshikikan" no etegami ("Picture letters from the Commander in Chief")[2] by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (portrayed on screen by Ken Watanabe) and So Sad To Fall In Battle: An Account of War[3] by Kumiko Kakehashi about the Battle of Iwo Jima. While some characters such as Saigo are fictional, the overall battle as well as several of the commanders are based upon actual people and events.

Home media release

Letters from Iwo Jima was released on DVD by Warner Home Video on May 22, 2007. It was also released on HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Furthermore it was made available for instant viewing with Netflix's "Watch Instantly" feature where available. The film was rereleased in 2010 as part of Clint Eastwood's tribute collection Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros.. The Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition DVD is also available in a Five-Disc Commemorative Set, which also includes the Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition of Flags of Our Fathers and a bonus fifth disc containing History Channel's "Heroes of Iwo Jima" documentary and To the Shores of Iwo Jima, a documentary produced by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The English dubbed version DVD was released on June 1, 2010.[4] This version was first aired on cable channel AMC on April 26, 2008.[5]


Critical response

In the United States

The film was critically acclaimed, and well noted for its portrayal of good and evil on both sides of the battle. The critics heavily praised the writing, direction, cinematography and acting. The review tallying website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 180 out of the 198 reviews they tallied were positive for a score of 91% and a certification of "fresh."[6] Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, and Richard Schickel of Time were among many critics to name it the best picture of the year. In addition, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune both gave it four stars, and Todd McCarthy of Variety praised the film, assigning it a rare 'A' rating.

On December 6, 2006, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named Letters from Iwo Jima the best film of 2006.[7][8] On December 10, 2006, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named Letters from Iwo Jima Best Picture of 2006. Furthermore, Clint Eastwood was runner-up for directing honors.[9] In addition, the American Film Institute named it one of the 10 best films of 2006. It was also named Best Film in a Foreign Language on January 15 during the Golden Globe Awards. It had been nominated for Best Film in a Foreign Language; and Clint Eastwood held a nomination for Best Director.

CNN's Tom Charity in his review described Letters from Iwo Jima as "the only American movie of the year I won't hesitate to call a masterpiece."[10] On the "Best Films of the Year 2006" broadcast (December 31, 2006) of the television show Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper listed the film at #3 and guest critic A. O. Scott listed it at #1, claiming that the film was "close to perfect." Roger Ebert awarded the film a perfect score (4 out of 4 stars) and raved about it as well. James Berardinelli awarded a 3 out of 4 star review, concluding with that although both 'Letters' and 'Flags' were imperfect but interesting, 'Letters from Iwo Jima' was more focused, strong and straightforward than its companion piece.

On January 23, 2007, the film received four Academy Award nominations. Eastwood was nominated for his directing, as well as Best Picture along with producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz. It was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. The film took home one award, Best Sound Editing.

The film also appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2006.[11]

In Japan

The film was far more commercially successful in Japan than in the U.S., ranking number 1 for five weeks, and receiving a warm reception from both Japanese audiences and critics. The Japanese critics noted that Clint Eastwood presented Kuribayashi as a "caring, erudite commander of Japan's Iwo Jima garrison, along with Japanese soldiers in general, in a sensitive, respectful way." [12] Also, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shinbun noted that the movie is clearly "distinguishable" from previous Hollywood movies, which tended to portray Japanese characters with non-Japanese actors (e.g., Chinese-Americans, and other Asian-Americans). Consequently, incorrect Japanese grammar and non-native accents were conspicuous in those former films, jarring their realism for the Japanese audience. In contrast, most Japanese roles in 'Letters from Iwo Jima' are played by native Japanese actors. Also, the article praised the film's new approach, as it is scripted with excellent research into Japanese society at that time. According to the article, previous Hollywood movies describing Japan were based on the stereotypical images of Japanese society, which looked "weird" to native Japanese audiences. Letters from Iwo Jima is remarkable as the movie that tries to escape from the stereotypes.[13] Owing to the lack of stereotypes, Letters from Iwo Jima was appreciated by Japanese critics and audiences.[14]

Since the movie was successful in Japan, it has been also reported that there has been a tourist boom on the island of Iwo Jima.[15]

Nicholas Barber's review in Independent of the United Kingdom argued that the movie was a "timid, circumspect film" that was "as mawkish about other country's soldiers as it can about its own." Barber inaccurately (and briefly) claimed that the only good and caring characters were those who had "spent some time in the United States," implying but not directly claiming an American bias in the film [16]

Despite rave reviews, the film only grossed $13.7 million domestically in the United States. Foreign sales of $54.9 million helped to boost revenue over production costs of $19 million.[1]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards record
1. Best Sound Editing
Golden Globe Awards record
1. Best Foreign Language Film




  1. ^ a b c "Letters from Iwo Jima".  
  2. ^ Kuribayashi, T. (Yoshida, T., editor) "Gyokusai Soshireikan" no Etegami. Shogakukan, Tokyo, April 2002, 254p, ISBN 4-09-402676-2 (Japanese)
  3. ^ Kakehashi, K. So Sad To Fall In Battle: An Account of War (Chiruzo Kanashiki). Shinchosha, Tokyo, July 2005, 244p, ISBN 4-10-477401-4 (Japanese) / Presidio Press, January 2007, 240p, ISBN 0-89141-903-9 (English)
  4. ^ "Letters From Iwo Jima (Ws Sub Dub Ac3 Dol Ecoa) (2006)".  
  5. ^ "Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima Now in English (2008)".  
  6. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)".  
  7. ^ "Eastwood's 'Letters' named 2006's best".  
  8. ^ "Awards for 2006". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Retrieved December 7, 2006. 
  9. ^ "Awards for 2006". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on December 20, 2006. Retrieved December 10, 2006. 
  10. ^ "Review: 'Letters from Iwo Jima' a masterpiece". CNN. Retrieved January 9, 2007. 
  11. ^ "Metacritic: 2006 Film Critic Top Ten Lists".  
  12. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima" (PDF). 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "キネマ旬報社". 2012-09-21. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  15. ^ 映画「硫黄島2部作」で…硫黄島ブーム 小笠原新聞社 2006年12月19日
  16. ^ Barber, Nicholas. "Review: 'Letters from Iwo Jima." The Independent, 25 Feb. 2007. Archive link:

Further reading

  • Eliot, Marc (2009). American Rebel: The Life of Clint Eastwood.  

External links

  • Letters from Iwo Jima
  • Letters from Iwo Jima at the Internet Movie Database
  • Letters from Iwo Jima at Rotten Tomatoes
  • Letters from Iwo Jima at Metacritic
  • Letters from Iwo Jima at AllMovie
  • special effects artist Vincent GuastiniLetters from Iwo JimaVideo interview with at Interviewing Hollywood
  • Gerow, Aaron (2006). "From Flags of Our Fathers to Letters From Iwo Jima: Clint Eastwood’s Balancing of Japanese and American Perspectives". Japan Focus. Retrieved May 29, 2009. 
  • Ikui, Eikoh (2007). "Letters from Iwo Jima: Japanese Perspectives". Japan Focus. Retrieved May 29, 2009. 
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