Saturday, May 26, 2007

Letters from Iwo Jima

Most acclaimed war films already deal with the insanity and suffering of war; Letters from Iwo Jima tries to do it without seeming to know very much about the Japanese particulars that should carry the film -- thus offering viewers little more than a change of uniform. The subjects might as well have been Portugese; Eastwood never goes deeper than universal themes of familial ties and loyalty to country, saying nothing about what Japan was fighting for in a geopolitical sense, or how this narrative played itself out in the mind of the average Japanese soldier in periods of adversity -- all the more so in moments of despair.

A more masterful interpretation might have focused on the noble myths perpetuated by the Japanese state which persuaded decent people to commit great evil -- precisely by engendering in them the notion that it was good. This is also a universal feature of war, though wouldn't it have been fascinating to learn how it unfolded in a particular historical context -- such as the allied assault on Iwo Jima, from the perspective of the Japanese? Instead, we are treated to a string of Japanese-themed stereotypes, which, while probably true and relevant to the occasion, are nonetheless a little too familiar to American audiences to be the whole explanation here: The Japanese are duty-bound and subservient to authority -- hence the trouble they find themselves in at Iwo Jima.

For reasons like this, the screenwriting convinced me only of the author's familiarity with Japanese custom, not the historical specifics of the chosen setting (to say nothing of the political realities). Any kind of scholarship of the Japanese during WWII would have been welcomed in the development of this story; it might have taught many an interesting lesson about the varied dynamics at play in this unique setting, and lent authenticity to an otherwise banal approach.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blob. Although I don't agree with everything that you say here, I think you have a very astute mind and a very broad handle on many subjects. Keep up the good work. Most people don't think passed the next meal they want!

Phoebe said...

Good post.