By Noriko Nakamura, Asahi Weekly
Even for an Academy Award-winning director like Clint Eastwood, making two movies taken from the opposing sides of a battle seemed a daunting and impossible challenge.
But Eastwood proved the skeptics wrong in completing what he calls his "Iwo Jima project," filming the movies "Flags of Our Fathers," and "Letters from Iwo Jima" from the standpoint of the U.S. and Japanese soldiers and their leaders.
"Both films add up to show the futility of war and how it is always the young people whose lives are sacrificed. They are not anti-patriotic films, just something to make audiences in America and Japan see different points of view," said Eastwood, 76, in a recent press conference in Tokyo.
"Letters from Iwo Jima," made from the Japanese perspective, opened in Japan on Dec. 9, following the recent release of "Flags of Our Fathers," the companion movie focusing on the U.S. side during and after the bloody battle of Iwo Jima.
Some of Japan's top actors star in "Letters from Iwo Jima," including Ken Watanabe as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who commanded the doomed Iwo Jima defenses, and Tsuyoshi Ihara as Baron Nishi and Shido Nakamura as Lieutenant Ito.
"Letters from Iwo Jima" was filmed in Japanese and even in directing movies for more than 35 years, this is the first time Eastwood directed a film in a foreign language. In response to a question, Eastwood said he didn't have language barriers in directing foreign actors.
"Good acting is good acting in any language," Eastwood said. "I knew exactly what the script was, so when people were talking, I just looked for honesty over character. To me, acting seems to be an art form, and when you take the brain out and put your heart into it, you will find a much better reaction."
Watanabe said Eastwood was the best director he has ever worked with. He added that Eastwood's experience as an actor helped him to create a comfortable working atmosphere for the Japanese cast.
Kazunari Ninomiya, who played the young soldier Saigo in "Letters from Iwo Jima," agreed.
"Clint always stood by me whenever I wanted to do something not written in the script, so I could play freely," Ninomiya said.
At the Tokyo press conference, the Japanese actors all agreed that Eastwood was very flexible in his directing. Watanabe said he handed notes to Eastwood every morning, exchanging ideas on everything from costumes to hand tools.
Ninomiya recalled proposing an idea to Eastwood during filming, which he immediately accepted.
In the scene where Saigo finds the body of his comrade Shimizu (played by Ryo Kase), he gently places a soldier's good-luck belt, which had a thousand stitches embroidered by his mother, on him. Ninomiya said he thought it would show Shimizu's love and connection to his mother.
"It was a very good idea, so it became my idea," Eastwood joked. "I would like to see everybody bringing a lot of creativity. ... when I was a young actor working in a film, I loved contributing to the film beyond what was written in the script. Therefore I love that young actors working for me contribute as well."
Eastwood also emphasized that he trusts actors, and believes in his own intuition and instinct as well, in everyone working together to make a film better.
As testament, everybody at the press conference, including the young actors, referred to Eastwood by his first name, "Clint," which fully illustrated the teamwork that went into "Letters from Iwo Jima."
"The story of the film is wonderful and very important, but while watching this film, I remembered the trivialities of daily existence during filming such as eating a meal or talking about silly things and laughing together with the American staff," Kase said. "It means more to me that the fact of making this film of the Iwo Jima battle in cooperation with the American and Japanese staff together."
"Maybe, it would have been successful for Clint to make only one film on the American side, but it amazes me to make one more film from the Japanese perspective. I am deeply proud of being one of the contributors of this project," Ihara added.
Eastwood ended the press conference with the touching message that "those who lose their lives in war, on both sides, are fully deserving of honor and respect. These two films are my tribute to them."
- Flags...Fathers 映画『父親たちの星条旗』
- Letters...Jima 映画『硫黄島からの手紙』
- futility むなしさ
- General...Kuribayashi 栗林忠通中将（日本軍硫黄島守備隊の総指揮官を務めた陸軍中将）
- doomed 運の尽きた
- Baron Nishi バロン西（1932年ロサンゼルス・オリンピックの馬術競技金メダリスト。硫黄島の戦地でも愛馬をかわいがった人物）
- Lieutenant Ito 伊藤中尉（栗林中将のやり方に反発する厳格な軍人）
- comrade 戦友
- soldier's...embroidered 千人針
- intuition and instinct 直感と本能
- As testament そのあかしとして
- trivialities...existence 日常のささいなこと
Growing up with my father, we knew that he was a flag-raiser, but that's all we knew because he wouldn't talk about it. After he died, we found some boxes that he kept in his closet. In one of those boxes was the letter he brought home from Iwo Jima. It was the letter to his mother and father back in America, and he wrote that he had a little to do with raising an American flag, and "it was the happiest moment of my life."
I cried when I read that letter, wondering why my dad had been unable to share that happy moment with me, a son. So I never set out to write a book ― I set out to find out why my dad didn't talk.
And doing the research and talking with the veterans, I found that the reason my father didn't speak is because what they saw was so horrible, what they saw was so indescribable. These were things that they wanted to forget, not remember.
People see that photo as a photo of heroism; my father would look at the photo and think, three of his friends who are in that photo died. Iwo Jima was a massacre. Seven thousand dead Americans, 22,000 dead Japanese. This was something to forget, not remember. （紀）