“Letters From Iwo Jima” is actually part two of a duology (two movies) made by Clint Eastwood. His ambitious idea was to showcase the Battle of Iwo Jima from different perspectives. The first part was “Flags of Our Fathers,” which represented the American point of view during and after the battle. “Letters from Iwo Jima” tells the story of the Japanese Army.
The general consensus is that “Letters From Iwo Jima” is the better film out of the two – from the gripping screenplay to the humanized and empathetic depiction of the Japanese forces. You’d be hard-pressed to find that in true-blue American war films any other day. The story is harrowing and intense. Yet, the beautiful way in which events unfold, showing an army coming to terms with imminent defeat, is unmatched.
Grand Illusion (1937)
Jean Renoir crafted a masterpiece with “Grand Illusion.” The film follows the story of French prisoners of war and their captors. The film hit a nerve where it mattered the most. The infamous Joseph Goebbels loathed the movie and its critique of the war. Of course, his No. 1 gripe was how the film made Germany look bad. But it wasn’t just Germany that took offense.
When the film was re-released in 1946, the French took issue with its dated, “pacifist” message — especially in how the film depicted connections between German and French officers. By then, both countries were in the thick of WWII and its unimaginable atrocities. Still, Renoir’s film offers slivers of hope, suggesting that a shared sense of humanity can trump nationalistic agendas. But without concerted effort, this kind of connection might be lost forever.
The Odd Angry Shot (1979)
As the title suggests, “The Odd Angry Shot” is well, a slightly odd war film. And that’s not a bad thing as viewers soon discover. Most war films feature bleak, apocalyptic war scenes, usually culminating in one epic climactic moment in battle. “The Odd Angry Shot” takes a different yet equally relevant view, if not more so.
The film is set during the Vietnam War and follows a regular day in the life of an Australian platoon. Scenes of lighthearted downtime and beer-swilling co-exist against the backdrop of war and death. The film’s tone is almost aloof, preferring quiet observation to direct commentary. Yet, its objectivity and humor convey everything, even without outright statements about war. The film’s alternative, reflective view of war provokes more thought than most others in the genre.
The Burmese Harp (1956)
Kon Ishikawa’s “The Burmese Harp” is about Japanese soldiers facing reckoning towards the end of WWII. To better understand the film, it is best to first watch “Fires on the Plain” (also by Ishikawa.) The double feature offers a broader context on meaning and certain recurring themes. “Fires on the Plain” has Eiji Funakoshi playing Tamura, a soldier stricken with tuberculosis. He is refused admission into a hospital and resorts to wandering among the dead, starving, and on the brink of death.
Death seems better than survival. “The Burmese Harp” takes place in a similar hellish landscape but tinged with hope. A Japanese private (Shoji Yasu) disguises himself as a monk – partly to survive and because he feels called to a higher duty. War is still grim but there are glimmers of possibility, of hard-won spiritual redemption and tenuous common ground between wartime enemies.
Most people remember the television series when they hear “M*A*S*H” but very few know that an incredible film preceded the small screen! Directed by Robert Altman, “M*A*S*H” the film follows the story of medical officers stationed in Korea for whom humor isn’t just a coping mechanism, it’s a way of life. American audiences loved the film.
The war in Vietnam was raging on and the atmosphere was filled with cynicism and anti-war sentiments. “M*A*S*H” and its dark comedy was a breath of fresh air. While we’re big fans of the series and its cast, the film might be even better with masterful performances by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt, Robert Duvall, and Sally Kellerman.