Letters from Iwo Jima
Theatrical release poster
Directed byClint Eastwood
Screenplay byIris Yamashita
Story by
Based onPicture Letters from Commander in Chief
by Tadamichi Kuribayashi (author)
Tsuyuko Yoshida (editor)
Produced by
CinematographyTom Stern
Edited by
Music by
Distributed by
Release dates
  • December 9, 2006 (2006-12-09) (Japan)
  • December 20, 2006 (2006-12-20) (United States)
Running time
140 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$19 million[2]
Box office$68.7 million[2]

Letters from Iwo Jima (硫黄島からの手紙, Iōjima Kara no Tegami) is a 2006 Japanese-language American war film directed and co-produced by Clint Eastwood, starring Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya. The film portrays the Battle of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers and is a companion piece to Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers, which depicts the same battle from the American viewpoint; the two films were shot back to back. Letters from Iwo Jima is almost entirely in Japanese, despite being co-produced by American companies DreamWorks Pictures, Malpaso Productions and Amblin Entertainment.

The film was released in Japan on December 9, 2006 and received a limited release in the United States on December 20, 2006 in order to be eligible for consideration for the 79th Academy Awards, for which it received four nominations, including Best Picture and winning Best Sound Editing. It was subsequently released in more areas of the U.S. on January 12, 2007, and was released in most states on January 19. An English-dubbed version of the film premiered on April 7, 2008. Upon release, the film received critical acclaim and although it only grossed slightly better at the box office than its companion, it was much more successful compared to its budget.


In 2005, Japanese archaeologists explore tunnels on Iwo Jima, where they find something in the dirt.

Iwo Jima, 1944. Private First Class Saigo, a conscripted baker who misses his wife and newly-born daughter, is digging beach trenches with his platoon when Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi arrives to take command of the garrison. He saves Saigo from a beating by Captain Tanida for being "unpatriotic", and orders the garrison to tunnel underground defenses throughout the island.

Kuribayashi and Lieutenant Colonel Baron Takeichi Nishi, a famous Olympic gold medalist show jumper, clash with the other officers, who disagree with Kuribayashi's defense in depth strategy. Kuribayashi learns that Japan cannot send reinforcements, and thus believes that the tunnels and mountain defenses stand a better chance for holding out than banking everything on holding a defensive line on the beach. Poor nutrition and unsanitary conditions take their toll, and many die of dysentery. Replacement troops arrive, including Superior Private Shimizu, whom Saigo suspects is a spy from the Kempeitai sent to report on disloyal soldiers.

Soon, American aircraft and warships bombard the island. A few days later, U.S. Marines land and suffer heavy casualties, but they overcome the beach defenses and attack Mount Suribachi. While delivering a message from Captain Tanida to Colonel Adachi, Saigo overhears Kuribayashi's retreat orders over the radio; Adachi instead orders his unit to commit honorable suicide. Many of the soldiers obey except Saigo and Shimizu, who decide to retreat and fight on.

The Mount Suribachi survivors make a run for friendly lines, but Marines ambush and slaughter them. Saigo and Shimizu reach safety, but are accused by Lieutenant Ito of cowardice. They are about to be summarily executed when Kuribayashi arrives and confirms his order to retreat. Against Kuribayashi's orders, Ito leads an attack on US positions and many soldiers are killed. Lt. Col. Nishi reprimands Ito for his insubordination; in response, Ito leaves carrying several land mines and intends to throw himself under a US tank. Shimizu reveals to Saigo that he was dishonorably discharged from the Kempeitai because he disobeyed an order to kill a family's dog. Nishi is eventually blinded by shrapnel, and orders his men to withdraw before committing suicide.

Saigo and Shimizu decide to surrender, but Shimizu and another soldier are spotted by an officer, who is ordered to shoot potential deserters. Shimizu escapes and is found by a Marine patrol. Shimizu and another Japanese prisoner are then unlawfully executed by one of their guards. Saigo and the remaining soldiers flee to Kuribayashi's position, which is ill-supplied. Saigo befriends Kuribayashi, and a counter-attack is planned. Kuribayashi orders Saigo to stay behind and destroy any vital documents, saving his life for a third time.

That night, Kuribayashi leads a final night attack on a Marine encampment. Most of his men are killed, and Kuribayashi is critically wounded and dragged away by his aide, Lt. Fujita. Meanwhile, Ito has long abandoned his suicidal mission and is captured by Marines. The next morning, Kuribayashi orders Fujita to behead him with his Guntō, but Fujita is shot and killed by a Marine sniper. Saigo arrives, having buried a bag of letters before leaving headquarters. Kuribayashi asks Saigo to bury him where he will not be found, then draws his pistol — an M1911 gifted to him in the US before the war — and commits suicide. Saigo dutifully buries him.

Later, a Marine platoon finds Fujita's body. Saigo reappears and attacks them, infuriated to see an American has taken Kuribayashi's pistol. Saigo is subdued and taken to the beach to recover alongside wounded Marines. Awakening on a stretcher, he glimpses the setting sun and smiles.

Returning to 2005, the archaeologists complete their digging and reveal the bag of letters that Saigo had buried. As the letters spill out from the opened bag, the voices of the Japanese soldiers who wrote them are heard.


Clint Eastwood, Ken Watanabe, Kazunari Ninomiya and Tsuyoshi Ihara after a screening at the Berlinale 2007


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Although the film is set in Japan, it was filmed primarily in Barstow and Bakersfield in California. All Japanese cast except for Ken Watanabe were selected through auditions.[citation needed] Filming in California wrapped on April 8, and the cast and crew then headed back to the studio in Los Angeles for more scenes.

Ken Watanabe filmed a portion of his scenes on location on Iwo Jima.[3][4] Locations on Iwo Jima which were used for filming included beaches, towns, and Mount Suribachi.[5] Because the crew were only allowed to film minor scenes on Iwo Jima, most of the battle scenes were filmed in Iceland. Filming in Los Angeles lasted for approximately two months, and other locations across the US including Virginia, Chicago, and Houston.[6]

The filmmakers had to be given special permission from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to film on Iwo Jima, because the remains of more than 10,000 missing Japanese soldiers are there.[7][8][9] The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) operates a naval air base on Iwo Jima, which is used by the United States Navy for operations such as nighttime carrier landing practice. Civilian access to the island is restricted to those attending memorial services for American Marines and Japanese soldiers.

The battleship USS Texas (BB-35), which was used in closeup shots of the fleet (for both movies), also participated in the actual attack on Iwo Jima for five days. The only character to appear in both Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima is Charles W. Lindberg, played by Alessandro Mastrobuono.


The film is based on the non-fiction books "Gyokusai sōshikikan" no etegami ("Picture letters from the Commander in Chief")[10] by General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (portrayed on screen by Ken Watanabe) and So Sad To Fall In Battle: An Account of War[11] by Kumiko Kakehashi about the Battle of Iwo Jima. While some characters such as Saigo are fictional, the overall battle as well as several of the commanders are based upon actual people and events.


Critical response

In the United States

Letters from Iwo Jima was critically acclaimed, and well noted for its portrayal of good and evil on both sides of the battle. The critics heavily praised the writing, direction, cinematography and acting. The review tallying website Rotten Tomatoes reported that 184 out of the 202 reviews they tallied were positive for a score of 91%, and an average rating of 8.20/10, and a certification of "fresh." The site's consensus states: "A powerfully humanistic portrayal of the perils of war, this companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers is potent and thought-provoking, and it demonstrates Clint Eastwood's maturity as a director."[12] Metacritic gave the movie a score of 89 based on 37 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[13] Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, and Richard Schickel of Time were among many critics to name it the best picture of the year.[14][15][16] In addition, Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune both gave it four stars, and Todd McCarthy of Variety praised the film, assigning it a rare 'A' rating.[17]

On December 6, 2006, the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures named Letters from Iwo Jima the best film of 2006.[18][19] On December 10, 2006, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association named Letters from Iwo Jima Best Picture of 2006. Furthermore, Clint Eastwood was runner-up for directing honors.[20] In addition, the American Film Institute named it one of the 10 best films of 2006. It was also named Best Film in a Foreign Language on January 15 during the Golden Globe Awards, while Clint Eastwood held a nomination for Best Director.

CNN's Tom Charity in his review described Letters from Iwo Jima as "the only American movie of the year I won't hesitate to call a masterpiece."[21] On the "Best Films of the Year 2006" broadcast (December 31, 2006) of the television show Ebert & Roeper, Richard Roeper listed the film at #3 and guest critic A. O. Scott listed it at number one, claiming that the film was "close to perfect". James Berardinelli awarded a three out of four star review, concluding that although both 'Letters' and 'Flags' were imperfect but interesting, 'Letters from Iwo Jima' was more focused, strong and straightforward than its companion piece.[22]

On January 23, 2007, the film received four Academy Award nominations. Eastwood was nominated for his directing, as well as Best Picture along with producers Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz. It was also nominated for Best Original Screenplay. The film took home one award, Best Sound Editing.

The film appeared on many critics' top ten lists of the best films of 2006, including 157 top ten lists in North America with 25 number one spots.[23][24]

In Japan

The film was far more commercially successful in Japan than in the U.S., ranking number 1 for five weeks, and receiving a warm reception from both Japanese audiences and critics. The Japanese critics noted that Clint Eastwood presented Kuribayashi as a "caring, erudite commander of Japan's Iwo Jima garrison, along with Japanese soldiers in general, in a sensitive, respectful way."[25] Also, the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun noted that the movie is clearly "distinguishable" from previous Hollywood movies, which tended to portray Japanese characters with non-Japanese actors (e.g., Chinese-Americans, and other Asian-Americans). Consequently, incorrect Japanese grammar and non-native accents were conspicuous in those former films, jarring their realism for the Japanese audience. In contrast, most Japanese roles in Letters from Iwo Jima are played by native Japanese actors. Also, the article praised the film's new approach, as it is scripted with excellent research into Japanese society at that time. According to the article, previous Hollywood movies describing Japan were based on the stereotypical images of Japanese society, which looked "weird" to native Japanese audiences. Letters from Iwo Jima is remarkable as the movie that tries to escape from the stereotypes.[26] Owing to the lack of stereotypes, Letters from Iwo Jima was appreciated by Japanese critics and audiences.[27]

Since the film was successful in Japan, a tourist boom has been reported on the Ogasawara islands, of which Iwo Jima is part.[28]

Despite favorable reviews, the film only grossed $13.7 million in the United States. Foreign sales of $54.9 million helped to boost revenue over production costs of $19 million.[2]

Awards and honors

Award Category Recipient Result
Academy Awards Best Picture Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz Nominated
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis Nominated
Best Sound Editing Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Berlin Film Festival Cinema for Peace Won
Critics' Choice Awards Best Foreign Language Film Won
Best Picture Nominated
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Won
Best Film Nominated
Best Director Clint Eastwood Nominated
Best Original Screenplay Iris Yamashita Nominated
Best Original Score Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens Nominated
Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Best Foreign Language Film Won
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Best Film Won
National Board of Review Best Film Won
San Diego Film Critics Society: Best Film Won
Best Director Clint Eastwood Won
Japan Academy Film Prize Outstanding Foreign Language Film Won

Top ten lists

Other honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home media

Letters from Iwo Jima was released on DVD by Warner Home Video on May 22, 2007. It was also released on HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. Furthermore, it was made available for instant viewing with Netflix's "Watch Instantly" feature where available. The film was re-released in 2010 as part of Clint Eastwood's tribute collection Clint Eastwood: 35 Films 35 Years at Warner Bros. The Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition DVD is also available in a Five-Disc Commemorative Set, which also includes the Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition of Flags of Our Fathers and a bonus fifth disc containing History Channel's "Heroes of Iwo Jima" documentary and To the Shores of Iwo Jima, a documentary produced by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.

The English dubbed version DVD was released on June 1, 2010.[30] This version was first aired on cable channel AMC on April 26, 2008.[31]


  1. ^ "LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (15)". British Board of Film Classification. January 2, 2007. Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved October 12, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Letters from Iwo Jima". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on May 14, 2012. Retrieved July 5, 2009.
  3. ^ David Gordon Smith, Von (February 13, 2006). "'Letters From Iwo Jima' Sparks World War II Debate in Japan". Der Spiegel. Archived from the original on February 23, 2021. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  4. ^ David Gordon Smith, Von (January 3, 2007). "Emotional filming of "Iwo Jima"". Denver Post. Archived from the original on October 28, 2020. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  5. ^ "Interview: The Cast and Crew of Letters from Iwo Jima". moviehole.net. February 8, 2007. Archived from the original on October 28, 2020. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  6. ^ Hiscock, John (November 17, 2006). "Why I had to tell the same story twice". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on July 7, 2016. Retrieved October 24, 2020.
  7. ^ "Eastwood hears Ishihara's Iwo Jima plea". The Japan Times. April 7, 2005. Archived from the original on October 19, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  8. ^ "Letters From Iwo Jima". ClintEastwood. Archived from the original on December 20, 2021. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  9. ^ Maruyama, Hikari (February 29, 2020). "Remains of fallen soldiers in Battle of Iwo Jima still await discovery". The Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on August 31, 2020. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  10. ^ Kuribayashi, T. (Yoshida, T., editor) "Gyokusai Soshireikan" no Etegami. Shogakukan, Tokyo, April 2002, 254p, ISBN 4-09-402676-2 (in Japanese)
  11. ^ Kakehashi, K. So Sad To Fall In Battle: An Account of War (Chiruzo Kanashiki). Shinchosha, Tokyo, July 2005, 244p, ISBN 4-10-477401-4 (in Japanese) / Presidio Press, January 2007, 240p, ISBN 0-89141-903-9 (in English)
  12. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on January 18, 2010. Retrieved August 23, 2009.
  13. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on September 27, 2020. Retrieved March 28, 2020.
  14. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (January 7, 2007). "The year's best films: Lisa Schwarzbaum's list". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  15. ^ Turan, Kenneth (December 17, 2006). "Bypassing the escape clause". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on October 22, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  16. ^ Corliss, Richard (December 20, 2006). "10 Best Movies – TIME". Time. Content.time.com. Retrieved November 6, 2016.
  17. ^ McCarthy, Todd (December 7, 2006). "Review: 'Letters From Iwo Jima'". Variety. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  18. ^ "Eastwood's 'Letters' named 2006's best". CNN. Archived from the original on December 17, 2006. Retrieved December 6, 2006.
  19. ^ "Awards for 2006". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. Archived from the original on January 10, 2007. Retrieved December 7, 2006.
  20. ^ "Awards for 2006". Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Archived from the original on December 20, 2006. Retrieved December 10, 2006.
  21. ^ "Review: 'Letters from Iwo Jima' a masterpiece". CNN. Archived from the original on January 10, 2007. Retrieved January 9, 2007.
  22. ^ Berardinelli, James. "Letters from Iwo Jima". ReelViews. Archived from the original on February 25, 2021. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
  23. ^ "Metacritic: 2006 Film Critic Top Ten Lists". Metacritic. Archived from the original on December 13, 2007. Retrieved January 8, 2008.
  24. ^ "Best Movies of 2006". Critics' Top10. CriticsTop10. Archived from the original on May 23, 2022. Retrieved May 28, 2022.
  25. ^ "Letters from Iwo Jima" (PDF).[permanent dead link]
  26. ^ Asahi Shimbun, December 13, 2006: それまでのアメリカ映画では、日本を描いた作品や日本人の設定でありながらも、肝心の俳優には中国系や東南アジア系、日系アメリカ人等が起用されたり、日本語に妙な訛りや文法の間違いが目立ち、逆に英語を流暢に話すといった不自然さが目立つことが多かったが、本作品ではステレオタイプな日本の描写(文化や宗教観等)や違和感のあるシーンが少なく、「昭和史」で知られる半藤一利も、細部に間違いはあるが、日本についてよく調べている.
  27. ^ "キネマ旬報社". Kinejun.com. September 21, 2012. Archived from the original on June 10, 2019. Retrieved October 4, 2012.
  28. ^ 映画「硫黄島2部作」で…硫黄島ブーム Archived December 19, 2007, at the Wayback Machine 小笠原新聞社 2006年12月19日
  29. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  30. ^ "Letters From Iwo Jima (Ws Sub Dub Ac3 Dol Ecoa) (2006)". Amazon. Archived from the original on March 25, 2021. Retrieved March 20, 2010.
  31. ^ "Clint Eastwood's Iwo Jima Now in English (2008)". AMC. Archived from the original on February 6, 2010. Retrieved March 20, 2010.
Further reading