Letters from Iwo Jima: Are People Basically the Same?

The film Letters From Iwo Jima shows some of the individual stories of Japanese soldiers in a way that may force some preconceived notions to be reconsidered. Through the characters and their interactions, the audience is reminded that in battle, soldiers are often forced to die whether they agree with the mission or not. With this comes a range of reactions from the Japanese soldiers, from a zealous want to die with honor, to an all-out reluctance to give life for the glory of the nation.

There are several scenes that really remind us that people experience the same range of emotions. Saigo not wanting to leave his wife and unborn child is certainly not an experience unique to a Japanese soldier. Nor is the fact that his wife does not want to let him go for fear that he will not return.

I think another poignant scene is when the wounded American soldier was captured and tended to by Nishi. Despite the fact that he is the “enemy,” Nishi orders that the American solider be medically treated. Nishi talks with the American as he lay dying, and tells him stories of America and even shows him a picture. This scene depicts a unique type of empathy between two soldiers who are perhaps similar and yet very divided. This is further demonstrated when the soldier dies, and Nishi reads the letter that the American has on his person. Perhaps in so doing, Nishi is trying to remind the other Japanese soldiers that everyone in war shares a common bond.

The scene in which the soldier refuses to shoot the barking dog also demonstrates a very human side of the war. He disagrees with his superior, and yet is fearful enough of him that he pretends to shoot the dog rather than disobeying orders. The soldier is visibly shaken when his superior catches on to the deception and shoots the dog himself.

I think a final scene that demonstrates the individual nature of humans following orders is the suicide scene. Despite the Bushido notion of dying with honor, and despite the fact that the other soldiers killed themselves, two of them decided not to follow suit. Instead, they fled and continued to fight. Perhaps to them, there was even more honor to be had in fighting on, or perhaps they were just afraid to die. In any event, the scene speaks to the fact that not every man blindly follows orders, and that people are all individuals rather than a collective enemy.