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Film Studies Essays – Real War Movies

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Real War Movies

Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from IWO JIMA: Two perspective of the same war


War movies have stand the test of time and gain critical and commercial success because it is important that it should be about the real war. War movies, particularly movies depicting World War II have a trend in being one sided (Feroze, 2008).

The topics explored in war movies are combat, survivor, getaway stories, tales of fearless sacrifice and struggle, submarine warfare, studies of the inefficiency and brutality of the battle, the effects of war on society, and intelligent and reflective explorations of the moral and human issues. The distinctive elements in an action-oriented war plots consist of submarine warfare, surveillance, camp experiences and escapes, personal heroism, brutalities, air fights, hard infantry experiences, and male bonding adventures during the battle.

Various war movies carry out balance in soul-searching, tragic consequences and inner turmoil of fighters with action-packed, dramatic scenes, passionately demonstrating the enthusiasm and chaos of warfare. Some war films focus on the home front rather than on the conflict at the military war –front. However most of them present criticism of senseless combat.

In order to motivate national pride and morale, and to present the dignity of one’s own forces while ruthlessly showing and criticizing the evilness of the opponent, especially during war and post-war periods, war movies have been frequently using a “flag-waving” propagandas. Jingoistic-type war does not typically symbolize realistic war to support national interest, whereas avoiding the realism of horrors of war. The good guys are depicted as colliding with bad guys (Dirks, 2008).

War movies as an important genre started after the occurrence of World War I. Film makers have been using the American history, extending from the French war and Indian war to the Vietnam war, as the foundation of making war movies. In general, wars from the 20th century specifically the first and second world war gives the film makers ideas in creating a good war film.

An ordinary factor of controversial war films, whether it was made by American, European, or Asians, is the lack of noticeable enemies (Buruma, 2007).

Clint Eastwood had made two movies of the same subject but differentperspective of the characters. He has broken all the leads of the traditional jingoist war movie genre and produced two excellent films, one in English: Flag of Our Fathers, and one in Japanese: Letters from Iwo Jima.

The inspiration of Clint Eastwood in making the movie “Letters From Iwo Jima” was the letter from of Japanese commander Lt. Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his family while fighting with the Americans during the battle in Iwo Jima (Ellison, 2007). Part of the letter was quoted by Buruma (2007):

“I may not return alive from this assignment, but let me assure you that I shall fight to the best of my ability, so that no disgrace will be brought upon our family. I will fight as a son of Kuribayashi, the Samurai, and will behave in such a manner as to deserve the name of Kuribayashi. May ancestors guide me.”


During the World War II, American marines invaded the island of Iwo Jima from February 19 to March 26, 1945. The battle between the US marines and the Japanese troops was a main idea of the Pacific Campaign of the WW II. The Marine assault, renowned as the Operation Detachment, was indicted with the undertaking of taking over the airfields of the island. Early in the battle, six US marines have reached Mount Suribachi in the island of Iwo Jima and raised the US flag. However, only three of the six has survived the battle. The battle between the American marines and the Japanese army was depicted in the movies of Clint Eastwood, Flag of Our Fathers and Letter From Iwo Jima.

The Flag of Our Fathers was the American point of view of what happened during the battle at Iwo Jima. The movie was based on the book written by the son of one of the surviving marines who raised the flag in Mount Suribachi. During the battle, more than 22,000 Japanese soldiers defended their island while almost 26,000 American marines spearheaded the invasion. The main feature of the movie is the tragic life stories of the six men who raised the American flag at the top of the Mount Suribachi during the battle. The movie tried to highlight the heroism of the three survivors of the battle who have raised the American flag during the battle and after they had returned home.

The Letters From Iwo Jima is the Japanese perspective of the Iwo Jima battle which was the first battle that the Americans attack on the Japanese lands. The island stands in between the American marines and the islands of Japan. Thus, the Japanese Army is hopeless in stopping the Americans in providing a take-off point in invading the island of Japan. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi was given authority of the forces on Iwo Jima and begins to plan for the forthcoming attack.

Yet, General Kuribayashi was against the traditional tactics advised by his subordinates, and offense and confrontation fester among his staff. In the lower rank, Saigo, a poor civilian, struggle with his friends to survive the strict command of the Imperial Japanese Army, all the while knowing that a violent war is a about to happen. When the Americans attacked, Kuribayashi and Saigo achieve strength, honor, courage, and horrors beyond imagination. The movie focuses on how the Japanese army defended their land.

The Flags of Our Father and Letters From Iwo Jima is a human tragedy of friendship and love, sacrifice and manipulation, set touching the brutal clash of the battle. The movies of Eastwood had brought together home and war which became a very important feature of both movies.

Comparison and Contrast

The scene in the black-and-white sulfur shore appeared in both movies of Clint Eastwood. It was shot on Iwo Jima which is considered as a part of Tokyo City in Japan. In both movies, the brutal effect of the war was shown. A man whose arm was blown off in explosion and Japanese soldier staring at the man face who was exploded was focused in detail. Soldiers in closed gaps were set on fire with flamethrowers.

The movie Flags of Our Fathers highlights the flag raising of the six American in Iwo Jima which was shown in the Letters of Iwo Jima at a distance. The American perspective focused the lives of the six men during and after the battle while the Japanese perspective featured the nobility of the soldiers.

The movies on the battle in Iwo Jima showed that the Japanese and American armies consist of noble men and men with selfish and morally disgusting decisions. The narrative arrangement of the movie was presented by using flashbacks. These lets the story goes in and out of the battle scenes which have prevented a long battle followed by a falling action.

The Flag of Our Fathers has displayed the character of heroism, the idea of patriotism, and the effectiveness of war. Letters From Iwo Jima explored the same premise more philosophical. Terribly lack of supplies and starving, the Japanese soldiers excavates and eagerly waited the arrival of the American troops. Many of the Japanese soldiers suffered dysentery. Some of them know that their fleets have been damaged. The American patriotism displayed in the Flags of Our Fathers was planned and well intentioned but established on half truths. The Japanese patriotism showed in Letters From Iwo Jima was a force one basing from honor, fear and oppression. The greatest honor of a Japanese soldier was to die in defending the land of their country.

The Letters of Iwo Jima also showed how Americans killed Japanese soldiers cruelly. It was shown that even the Japanese soldiers surrender, Americans still kill them. It was also shown how the soldiers commit suicide instead of being killed.

The cautious expression of doubts and brutal signs of humanity are presented in dialogues between the young soldiers. General Kuribayashi has doubted his knowledge on wars but never doubted to carry his duty until death. Unlike Saigo that he prioritize his family instead of sacrificing his life in the battle.

The character of Saigo is different from Ira Hayes in the movie Flags of our Fathers. Ira Hayes, who is an Indian reserve, acted by Adam Beach had found home and comfort and marines and has an interesting character in the movie. Hayes portrayed a loyal soldier because he has considered the US Marines as his family. Hayes was one of the Marines who raised the flag and has survived the battle.

The role of “Doc” Bradley was the highlight of the Flags of Our Fathers. In the movie, it was seen how Bradley risks his life by crawling in a lethal crossfire to help a wounded soldier. This act of Bradley has nothing to do with heroism and patriotism but it shows that war is not only dying for one’s country but also dying for a friend (Buruma, 2007).

The subtitles in the Japanese perspective reveal the use of rude languages such as the “damn” and the s-word.

The Flags of the Fathers is depicts the war in a colorless battle scenes in flashbacks in the Letter in Iwo Jima, it was in present tense appearing in black-and-white shots with a tint of green uniforms and some colorized flashbacks.

The movies show and optimistic sensibility when the American troops attacked the Japanese knowing that there is a possibility for them to die but they fought and tried to survive unlike the Japanese soldiers that the defense of Iwo Jima is a mission that they can not turn their backs to ant would rather commit suicide than surrender (Ellison, 2007).

It is nice to see Flags of Our Fathers prior to Letters of Iwo Jima to help in putting the events that is display scenes in the Letters of Iwo Jima into perspective. The movies display both perspectives of the Americans and Japanese regarding the battle in Iwo Jima which help the viewers analyze critically what really happened in the battle. The movies also showed different point of view on war and dignity.

Significant Scenes

The most significant scene in the movie Flags of Our Fathers was the raising of the American flag. This event is significant in the American history because it symbolizes the victory of the Americans in the battle of Iwo Jima.

One significant point in Eastwood’s movie is when Saigo was seen lying on the ground lined with wounded American soldiers and he was not recognized as an enemy.

The importance of these scene signifies the surrender of Saigo and chooses not to commit suicide in order to go home to his family.

4.1 Characters of the movies

The most outstanding performance in the movie Flags of our Fathers was from Adam Beach who played the soldier who is the most expressively troubled by the battle, and he did not at all agreed with what the press and military had done after the publishing of the photo.

The three main soldiers in the movie “Flag of our Fathers” were portrayed by Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach. No one of the three are A-list leading men and many minor characters were played by known actors such as Paul Walker, Barry Pepper, and Robert Patrcik.

Kuribayashi was played by Ken Watabe in the Letters From Iwo Jima and the only famous actor in the movie. The character of the Kuribayashi displayed a noble obligation on his men and dislike for the brutal officers who look upon him as a soft American-lover. It was his idea to fight underground rather fighting face to face with the enemies. Kuribayashi also shows a fighter who displays much affection in fighting with dignity. He also displays a typical Japanese soldier role that would die with honor and valor. Unlike other Japanese leaders seen in typical war movies, General Kuribayashi was in front of his men and was not afraid of a tactic retreat. He is also a leader who defends his men from brutality.

The character of Kuribayashi and Saigo displays a complicated and compelling answers on what is the meaning of living and dying with honor.

In the real battle, 22,000 Japanese troops defended Iwo Jima but only a thousand have survived. In the movie, Saigo is the only survival in his unit. He lived in the idea that there is no shame in surrendering. He displayed a role of a family-loving man. The role of Saigo showed sanity as he surrendered because of wanting to see his family. He identified the natural value of life that is shown in a flashback scene in the movie.

One of the soldiers in the movie, Shimizu, displays blind obedience and suicidal passion. He threatens Saigo when Saigo refuses to commit suicide but he himself has doubt of killing himself for honor during the battle and at last decided to surrender but was killed by the Americans.

The characters of Saigo and Shimizu show that not all soldiers who fight in the battlefield are ready to sacrifice their lives for honor, valor, and dignity. Some soldiers fight because it is their duty to fight for their country but the heart of dying for the country was not instilled in them.

4.2 Focus

In the movie Flag of the Fathers, it highlights the raising of the flag and the life of the survivors who raised the flag. The movie is not a typical war movie that centers on the battle, instead it shows the significance of the flag raising. The movie did not show where the enemies or did not emphasize on the battle itself, instead focused on the effect of the on the survivors of the flag raisers.

The movie showed how the surviving soldiers were abused by the government to sell war bonds to finance the war (Roten 2006).

The movie Letters From Iwo Jima focused on the battle for Iwo Jima during the World War II. It showed how the soldiers tried to defend the island from the Americans. It showed what Japanese soldiers mean by dying with honor. The movie is not focused on only one character but focused on the different response of the soldiers on the battle. Unlike in the Flags, the focus is on the three survivors of the war.

In the Flags, the Japanese soldiers were seen but they are faceless. It was seen that there are firing from bunkers and tunnels but the people firing were not seen. In the Letters, it showed the strategic plan of the officers of the Japanese soldiers in the counter attack to the Americans but the Americans were not also seen.

4.3 American and Japanese values

The Japanese soldiers display the character of fighting with honor. For them to fight with honor is to die in the battle. They know that there is no way to win the battle but some of the soldiers have the courage to die instead of surrendering. Some of the soldiers like Saigo depict the character of giving importance to family than dying in the battle that is hopeless. The Japanese perspective movie shows the other side of the battle. It demonstrates patriotic acts and heroic acts on the part of the Japanese soldiers.

On the American perspective, the movie demonstrates patriotism in the way the American troops gave their full loyalty to their country that with them knowing the consequences of the battle for Iwo Jima.


The Flags of Our Fathers raises the issue on discrimination of the people involved in the battle. It also displays how the surviving soldiers were exploited by the US government after the war. The movie shows that soldiers do not fight to become heroes instead fight for nationalism and patriotism (Greydanus, 2006).

The Letters From Iwo Jima is a unique American-made war movies the displays the battle from the losers point of view and it considered the American to be the enemy. The movie showed the how the Japanese officials strategically fought the enemies and lead his people until death displaying the true meaning of fighting with honor.

The movies of Clint Eastwood had changed the perception on war movies. Both, the Flag of Our Fathers and The Letters From Iwo Ima, displayed, in a way, the value of war and family at the same time. Also, the movies showed a two-sided view of the battle which is very important in order for the viewers to fully understand the real battle scenario that had happened. War movies of Clintwood give us a clear point of view that winning a battle is not just killing all enemies. A soldier can be a winner depending on what he believes in.

War movies are now a famous genre. The two movies of Clint Eastwood showed a different trend of war movies. It did not focus on the battle itself, unlike other war movies, but on the effects of war to the soldiers who fought and its impact to the society.

War movies capture a great interest to the movie goers but their satisfaction depends on the quality and the sequence of the movie.

Movie goers love a war movie that depicts a real war. A movie that displays a battle with good lighting, sounds, proper sequencing, and near to true-to-real battle stories will give audience give a good critique.


Berardinelli, J (2006). Letters from Iwo Jima

Buruma, I. (2007). Eastwood’s War. The New York Review of Books, 54, (2) .

Dirks, T. (2008) War and Anti-War Films.

Ellison, M. S. (2007) Letter From Iwo Jima: a Film to write about.

Feroze, T (2008) Letters from Iwo Jima: The war from the other side

Greydanus, S. (2006) Flag of Or Fathers. Decent Film guides.

Koresky, M (2006) Eyes of a Stranger.

Myers, J. (2007) Letters From Iwo Jima. February 2, 2007

Roten, R. (2006) Laramie Movie Scope:Flags of Our Fathers Dealing with both terrible war memories and fame

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