A better movie than Flags of Our Fathers? Yes.
Most Famous Current Japanese Actor In Hollywood Ken Watanabe is the new commander on Iwo Jima and commands the troops to entrench in the mountain instead of the beaches, so they can blast the Americans from above when they roll in, a decision that made the island much harder to capture (as seen in the hit film Flags of Our Fathers). His horse-riding bud Baron Nishi (star of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe) is in charge of the mountain while Ken is stationed elsewhere making big decisions.
But most of the story is told through the eyes of Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya from Pika*nchi Life Is Hard Dakedo Happy), a regular guy who gets drafted and has no particular allegiance to the war, just wants to survive and see his wife again. Saigo is the “regular guy just caught up by circumstance” who all the film critics are cheering for putting a human Japanese face on a Hollywood depiction of WWII. True dat, but his “war is hell” attitude of just wanting to get home is almost pro-American in how little he seems to care about his own side… would’ve been nice to get more of a balance within one character. I mean, the two elder traditionalists have both dealt with Americans before, and respect them, so there’s a little of that, but during the actual battle they are all-out willing to die for Japan, and our Saigo all-out refuses to die at any cost. So there’s little internal struggle.
It’s still a very good, well-done war movie, and an interesting twist for a Hollywood (Clint Eastwood!) flick. But as I was saying to Katy (who missed the whole Eastwood saga), after The Thin Red Line, it’s not enough to just make a capable war movie. That one set my standards unreasonably high.
Flavor-of-the-last-couple-years Paul Haggis (Million $ Baby, L.A. Crash, Walker Texas Ranger) helped write these flicks, Spielberg produced, and Tom Stern, Clint’s only cinematographer since Blood Work, shot ’em.