In October, director Clint Eastwood will release Flags of Our Fathers, based on the James Brady book of the same name. The movie, and book, tells the story of the five Marines and one Navy corpsman who hoisted the flag on Mt. Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. The photograph of the raising of the flag, taken by Joe Rosenthal, became an American icon and won Rosenthal the Pulitzer Prize in 1945. Rosenthal died just this past week at the age of 94 in Novato, CA.
Unfortunately, the subjects of his photograph did not enjoy similarly long lifetimes; three of them died during the war and the other three either struggled with living up to the legacy of that image or rarely spoke of it again. The author of the book, Flags of Our Fathers, was the son of one of these men and never knew his father was one of the men in the picture until after his death. The book is his journey to find out who his father was as well as the Battle of Iwo Jima itself.
Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest of many bloody battles against the entrenched Japanese during the United States’ island hopping campaign in the Pacific during WWII. Iwo Jima was to serve as a weighstation for bombers returning from missions over the Japanese home islands. The Japanese defended the eight-square mile island with about 22,000 defenders dug deep into bunkers and caves that covered the volcanic atoll’s surface. The fighting was fierce, as Marines probed the caves with grenades and flamethrowers to root out the determined defenders. Nearly 7000 Marines were killed and all but about 1000 of the Japanese soldiers were killed. One quarter of all Medals of Honor issued to Marines during WWII were given to those who fought on Iwo Jima. The battle did not end at the raising of the flag, however. The island was not declared to be secure until 31 days later.
I havn’t read Bradley’s book, but I’ve been anxiously awaiting this movie for some time. I’ve enjoyed Clint Eastwood’s last few films and am confident that he can deal with as weighty a subject as this quite deftly. From what I have read about the film, it will cover the battle and also follow the men back home for the War Bond/publicity drive that followed. Few war movies ever take us back home where the warrior has to cope with the mundane activities of everyday life. It will be interesting to see this perspective for a change. I can think of a couple movies that deal with the theme of the returning soldier, Born on the Fourth of July and The Best Years of Our Lives, neither of which I have seen. At any rate, given the real life facts surrounding these men, I’m not sure we’re looking at a real uplifting film. War is hell, and for those that fight it it doesn’t end when they get home. They live the rest of their lives with the sights, sounds, and even smells of the terrible things they witnessed.
In January, Eastwood (and Stephen Speilberg who is producing) will release Red Sun, Black Sand (or Letters From Iwo Jima, as it is being called in Japan) as a companion to Flags of Our Fathers. This film will look at the same battle but from the perspective of the Japanese. Should be interesting to see how this is treated. Hopefully, it won’t downplay the fanaticism of many, or most, of the Japanese.
We havn’t had any good WWII movies come out for a while, so I’m pretty excited about these two. Here is a combined trailer released in Japan. Until next time….
Update: I just bought Flag of Our Fathers today and plan on reading it before the movie comes out. I’ll give a review when I do.
Update #2: I mentioned that there haven’t been any good WWII movies out for a while, but I’m wrong. Last year The Great Raid which is an excellent movie about the true story of the most successful rescue operation in US history in the Phillippines, and 2004 had Der Untergang (The Downfall) about the last days in Hitler’s bunker. This was an incredible German-made movie with an amazing performance by Bruno Ganz as Hitler. Quite chilling. Both of these are well worth seeing.