"Find hungry samurai" -Gisaku



Much of what I have to say about LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is only tangentially related to the film itself. I usually preach that you only judge a movie by what’s up on screen; not who made it, not politics or any other factor, but I have to be real here.

When I think about some of the foreign language movies that were not nominated for Best Picture I get very very mad that LETTERS was. How could CITY OF GOD get overlooked but this film gets the nod?

Deep Breaths. Deep Breaths.

First, honesty compels me to admit that when I saw letters it was the fourth selection in the Movie Marathon, and I may have been a bit burnt out by then. (Belying this notion is how much everyone in the theatre enjoyed the fifth selection, but then again, it was a comedy, so perhaps by then we were ready to laugh.)

That being said, I don’t have much good to say about LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA. Moreover, I have even less good things to say about people who have praised LETTERS as if it’s the second coming of war movies. Koz, Nobel, pretty much everyone in the theatre did not respond to this picture, and it wasn’t because we are all right-wing fascists who cannot tolerate seeing the Japanese point of view or watching Japanese soldiers as humans, just like Americans.

It just dragged and dragged and dragged.

I asked Koz after the film, “How on earth could that have been nominated?” Koz’s answer (later expanded upon by Nobel) is that LETTERS got the nods because it looked like an Oscar-caliber film. Director Clint Eastwood bleached the film so that the sand looked washed out and contrasted with the volcanic rock (more on that in a minute). You have the different point of view from the American angle. (BTW, the American point of view was in Eastwood’s companion movie to this, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, a film I have not seen but have not met one person who was blown away. Respectable, yes, but not blown away. One wonders if the nomination was for the work as a duo? Who knows.)

Koz said audiences aren’t used to seeing films from different perspectives, so they stand out more. That may be true. Yet still: I’m actually offended LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA won the National Board of Review and Los Angeles Film Critic’s Association’s Best Picture. With all the other pictures out there, this didn’t deserve to win. When I think of all the foreign language films that were better, this didn’t deserve to be nominated.

To start with—and this may seem quibbling, but I think it’s huge—the subtitles are white. Now, I’m a big fan of good foreign films that are good and have no problem watching a film with subtitles. However, any reasonable person has to acknowledge that you miss a little bit of the magic, the nuance, the poetry of words when you’re translating. Towards that end, it would seem EXTREMELY IMPORTANT that the translation be easy to read. White captions on a white beach (with white surf and a white sky) on bleached film led to me (and others) often straining to read what people are saying. How can I not but blame Eastwood for this? I know he’s never made a foreign film, and maybe he wants a certain aesthetic look, but when he screened the film in the theatre, didn’t he notice the tiny insignificant flaw that 30% OF WHAT THEY SAY IS VERY DIFFICULT TO READ????

You know what? I’m done saying things about this film. There was an interesting part about a dog, but even that was tainted because it was so obvious and expected. LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA is not the worst film ever made, or even terrible. It’s really only boring. But I resent that it was an Oscar nominee, obligating me to see it and write even this much. See it if you want, love it if you must, but I will be spending my words on worthier fare.

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