Friday, July 22, 2011

Letters from Iwo Jima - Truth about war

 Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)

Critics considered Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima (硫黄島からの手紙 Iōjima Kara no Tegami) as one of the best movies of 2006. This spectacular and insightful masterpiece takes truthful look at Japanese defenders of Emperor’s Homeland. It has a particularly rich and convincing gallery of human characters in the hell of Iwo Jima with no stereotypes (not even among the feared Kempeitai military police).

The events are mostly historically accurate. Letters from Iwo Jima was filmed in location and historical footages of US Air force attacks or the enormous landing fleet are seamlessly included into the visual imagery. We get the feeling of actually having been there, not under the open sky where bullets and explosions kill immediately but inside those smelling, insect filled claustrophobic caves and tunnels.

The digging of the tunnels began in June 1944 (a strategically important decision by General Kuribayashi). Only the first aerial attack in February 1945 demonstrated to the grudging men their value. Two months of incessant bombing would have utterly destroyed defenders at the beach but the caves provided shelter and safety to the defenders and enormous death and destruction to the attackers.

It is my understanding that the powerful defence of Iwo Jima and bloody losses of the Marines convinced  USA president Harry Truman and his cabinet to drop the bombs at Hiroshima August 6, 1945 and Nagasaki August 9, 1945.

“Of the 22,060 Japanese soldiers entrenched on the island, 21,844 died either from fighting or by ritual suicide. Only 216 were captured during the battle. According to The official Navy Department Library website,“The 36-day (Iwo Jima) assault resulted in more than 26,000 American casualties, including 6,800 dead.” To put that into context, the 82-day Battle for Okinawa lasted from early April until mid-June 1945 and U.S. (5 Army and 2 Marine Corps Divisions) casualties were over 62,000 of whom over 12,000 were killed or missing; while the Battle of the Bulge lasted 40 days (16 Dec 44 – 25 Jan 45) with almost 90,000 U.S. casualties; 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 captured or missing.”

There were no civilian victims since General Kuribayashi had wisely ordered their immediate evacuation soon after arriving to the island.
Tadamichi Kuribayashi (1891 – 25.3 1945 Iwo Jima)

Ken Watanabe’s noble portrayal of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi is not only unforgettable, it fundamentally reshapes Western stereotypes of officers in the Japanese Imperial Army.

Private First Class Saiga (Kazunari Nimomiya) is a fictional person but he is, in my opinion, one of the most real persons in the movie. He presents the director Clint Eastwood himself toughtfully looking at the people and events through the eyes and sublte expressions of Saiga.

Saiga's young wife Hanako (Nae Yuuki) facing her husbands call to the army is a heart-breakingly true human. She makes us all secretly wish that Saiga would be able to keep his promise to the baby who was still in her mother’s womb when he left to the Imperial Army to a trip, from which nobody returned. "I'll be back" (in Japanese).

We get the impression that this movie tells the truth about war as it was. Japanese audience confirms our feeling and says this is pretty much as it was.

So, my fellow humans, where is God?

Bible could be the Book of the Wars. It has the men and horses of the Pharaoh of Egypt, it has the wars of the kings of Israel and Judah, it has the mighty conquering armies of cruel Assyrians and megalomaniac Babylonians, the wise Cyrus with his invincible army, Alexander the Great, Maccabean wars … the list is much longer than this

The Son of God lived in a country occupied by the Romans and there were hopes that He would lead a Jewish army to Messianic War of Liberation. And there is the Jewish War that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and Diaspora and a scary vision of a World War called Harmageddon.

The Book of the Wars, indeed.

So, my fellow humans, where is God?

He was in Iwo Jima, on both sides of the battle, directing the big things and the small things tenderly taking care of the most little things like Hanako's baby.

This is not a god of human imagination or correct political opinion but the only real God, the God of Israel.

Who is called Lord Zebaoth in the Bible and whose Son is also quite a commander.

So, my fellow humans, God is here, in the midst of our wars, Iwo Jima and others, past, present and future.

That's how it is.

(We may wonder why this masterpiece of war movies did not do so well in the theaters. Similarly, the excellent and historically accurate movie Raid at Cabanatuan showing the rescue of Allied POW's did rather poorly in the Box Office. I think that the reason to this phenomenon is that movie goers are not essentially interested in looking at the truth but prefer fairytales, magic and horror - escapes from the often so painful reality. )

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