Clint Eastwood's admirable, often poetic, sometimes overbearing companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers presents the battle for Iwo Jima from the Japanese point of view.
But there's more at play here. Deeply philosophical and curiously left-leaning in its concern for the individual, Letters questions whether there is really any difference between the Japanese soldiers and their American counterparts. The issue is crystallized by Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese general who has spent and enjoyed time in America and who is now assigned to defend Iwo Jima. He's seen both sides of the coin and his humanist approach to war causes great strife within the Japanese command, many of whom still cling to their culture's centuries-old traditions. While Letters' script is often too overt in its intentions and, at 141 minutes, it extends itself beyond necessity, Eastwood subverts typical war picture tropes, delivering a powerful film that investigates the impact of violence and the perils of one's blind obligation to country. This two-disc set features a bevy of extras, none of which are necessary to understand the film's lacerating emotional impact. (Jason Gargano) Grade: B