Letters from Iwo Jima

Letters from Iwo Jima
Letters from Iwo Jima is a Japanese language though American film about the Second World War directed by Clint Eastwood, and has a companion in Flags of Our Fathers, also directed by him. It has been lauded and won many accolades. In it, archaeologists of 2006 are digging and find a cache of letters. The voices of those who wrote them spill out into wartime and mainly dramatic and traumatic events. The film sees these matters particularly around the battle of Iwo Jima from the viewpoint of the Japanese participants, as the other film does for American participants (remember the iconic ‘troops raising the US flag’ war photo?). After these matters have been represented through the action in the film, the film briefly returns to the letters. Letters from Iwo Jima has been much acclaimed, including in Japan, for doing a decent job of representing Japanese soldiers as they ‘actually were’ rather than according to racial and national stereotype.

But what role do the letters actually play in the film? They loosely frame these events, as a broad-brush device. They are used to indicate that it is representing the personalised accounts of individuals writing/speaking/enacting their activities and feelings. The letter as such is used to imply a verisimilitude rooted in the experiences of named and identifiable individuals. The letter acts as a portal device, from words on paper to events in the material world outside of but connected to this. They write what we actually see. This aids the film in laying claim to human-level facticity: the Japanese soldiers are men as much as other men are, Japanese and Americans both. More complex aspects of letters, including that they are inscribed around the specific perspectives of particular individuals deploying silences, exaggerations, exclusions and so on, do not really feature.

Last updated: 21 July 2022


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