Letters from Iwo Jima

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Letters from Iwo Jima
Letters from Iwo Jima.jpg
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 $68.7 million[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 Flags of Our Fathers underperformed at the box office, DreamWorks swapped 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 slightly better at the box office than its companion.


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

The film flashes back to Iwo Jima in 1944. Private First Class Saigo, a conscripted baker, is beaten by his commanding officer, Captain Tanida, after complaining that they should give the island to the Americans. Tanida is stopped by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who has arrived to take command of the garrison. Kuribayashi learns from Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi that the Japanese Combined Fleet has been destroyed. Kuribayashi orders the garrison to tunnel defenses under the island. 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 and suffer heavy casualties, but 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 and orders the Suribachi garrison to retreat to the north caves.

Ignoring the General's orders, Adachi orders his officers and men to kill themselves. Tanida and the other soldiers commit suicide, but 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.

Saigo and Shimizu report to fanatical Navy Lieutenant Ito, who prepares to execute them for abandoning Mount Suribachi, but Kuribayashi reprimands Ito and confirms that he gave the order to evacuate the mountain.

Ignoring orders from Kuribayashi, Ito plans to lead his men in a banzai charge against U.S. positions. He 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 for disobeying his superior's order to kill a family's barking dog. Saigo is moved, and the two become friends.

Nishi is 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 in the cave with his rifle, Nishi kills himself.

Shimizu and Saigo plan to surrender together. 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 bodies are found by Lieutenant Okubo, who cites them as a lesson against surrender. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Ito, desperate and malnourished, breaks down and returns to the caves. When found by a Marine patrol, he surrenders.

Saigo and the rest of Okubo's patrol pass through a firefight while retreating; 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. 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 charge at the head of his surviving soldiers. He is seriously wounded when shrapnel is lodged in his legs. Fujita, the general's 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 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. The General, after knowing they were still in Japanese land, fatally shoots himself and Saigo drags his body away for burial.

Meanwhile, a Marine patrol finds Fujita's body and the katana. The leader of the patrol, a Marine Lieutenant, takes Kuribayashi's pistol as a trophy. They search the area and find Saigo with his shovel. Saigo, enraged by the sight of the Marines with Kuribayashi's weapons, lashes out at them; the Lieutenant knocks Saigo out with a rifle butt and has him sent to the POW camp. Awakening, Saigo glimpses the sun setting over the beach.

The film ends with the Japanese archaeologists finding the letters that Saigo 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] Principal photography finished in late 2006.[citation needed]

The filmmakers had to be given special permission from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to film on Iwo Jima,[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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[edit]

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[edit]

In the United States[edit]

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 Schwarzbaum 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.[7][8][9] 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.[10]

On December 6, 2006, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named Letters from Iwo Jima the best film of 2006.[11][12] 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.[13] 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, while 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."[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]

In Japan[edit]

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." [17] 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.[18] Owing to the lack of stereotypes, Letters from Iwo Jima was appreciated by Japanese critics and audiences.[19]

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.[20]

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 wrote that the only good and caring characters were those who had "spent some time in the United States".[21]

Despite favorable 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[edit]

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




  1. ^ a b c "Letters from Iwo Jima". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 5, 2009. 
  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)". amazon.com. Retrieved March 20, 2010. 
  5. ^ "Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima Now in English (2008)". AMC (TV channel). Retrieved March 20, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 23, 2009. 
  7. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (January 7, 2007). "The year's best films: Lisa Schwarzbaum's list". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  8. ^ Turan, Kenneth (December 17, 2006). "Bypassing the escape clause". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  9. ^ http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1570838,00.html
  10. ^ McCarthy, Todd (December 7, 2006). "Review: ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’". Variety. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Eastwood's 'Letters' named 2006's best". CNN. Archived from the original on December 17, 2006. Retrieved December 6, 2006. 
  12. ^ "Awards for 2006". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Retrieved December 7, 2006. 
  13. ^ "Awards for 2006". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on December 20, 2006. Retrieved December 10, 2006. 
  14. ^ "Review: 'Letters from Iwo Jima' a masterpiece". CNN. Retrieved January 9, 2007. 
  15. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Letters from Iwo Jima". ReelViews. Retrieved January 29, 2015. 
  16. ^ "Metacritic: 2006 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2008. 
  17. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima" (PDF). 
  18. ^ {{Asahi Shinbun, December 13, 2006: それまでのアメリカ映画では、日本を描いた作品や日本人の設定でありながらも、肝心の俳優には中国系や東南アジア系、日系アメリカ人等が起用されたり、日本語に妙な訛りや文法の間違いが目立ち、逆に英語を流暢に話すといった不自然さが目立つことが多かったが、本作品ではステレオタイプな日本の描写(文化や宗教観等)や違和感のあるシーンが少なく、「昭和史」で知られる半藤一利も、細部に間違いはあるが、日本についてよく調べている.}}
  19. ^ "キネマ旬報社". Kinejun.com. 2012-09-21. Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ Barber, Nicholas. "Review: 'Letters from Iwo Jima." The Independent, 25 Feb. 2007. Archive link: http://web.archive.org/web/20070930155755/arts.independent.co.uk/film/reviews/article2298399.ece

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]