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TAKE:Close-up on the brutal Iwo Jima fight

REEL CRITICS -- DOUBLE

January 19, 2007

Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg have teamed up for a stunning and painful meditation on the true nature of war. But in "Letters From Iwo Jima," they tell the story of the famous 1945 Pacific Battle entirely from the Japanese perspective. The camera lens is sharply focused on the brutal reality of life in the trenches and tunnels for the doomed foot soldiers of the empire.

The story reveals uncommon humanity and depth in the Japanese draftees who are forced to do the fatal bidding of their generals and politicians. Those who face the terror of the front lines know the dark side of duty, honor and country that their distant leaders will never understand. Eastwood's sensitivity to the story and remarkable directing drew outstanding performances from a cast of excellent Japanese actors.

The battle scenes feature state-of-the-art special effects that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The grim reality of the soldiers' fate is presented in the most painful and honest terms. And yet, Eastwood finds ways to inject subtle hope and even humor into this terrible chapter in modern history. A remarkable film that is sure to get attention from the Academy.

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JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.

  •  View from the other side of the front lines

  • Clint Eastwood's filmmaking artistry has become so legendary, his name over a title alone is enough to ensure a film of elegance, grace and understated truths.

  • He took on the ambitious project of making back-to-back films about the horrific battle of Iwo Jima in 1945, in which 6,825 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers were killed.

    The previously released "Flags of Our Fathers" examined the weeks-long conflict from the American point of view, particularly of the men in the famous photo of the flag raised on Mt. Suribachi.

    Now in "Letters From Iwo Jima," Eastwood puts faces to the Japanese soldiers on that island, using Japanese actors in their native language. In this story, the American flag on Suribachi is seen from far away as a footnote — a subtle reminder about the change in perspective.

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