Anthropology, Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Biography, History

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney on Letters from Iwo Jima

jacket imageEmiko Ohnuki-Tierney, author of the recent Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers, recently penned an interesting article for discussing Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning film Letters from Iwo Jima. Eastwood’s cinematic exploration of a pivotal battle of World War II, says Ohnuki-Tierney (and others), parallels the objective of her recent book in trying to “undo the demonization of Japanese soldiers that was propagated by the American mass media during and after the Pacific war of 1941-45.” And in fact, Eastwood’s film not only shares a common objective with Ohnuki-Tierney’s book, but also the means of accomplishing that objective. Both the movie and the book focus on the writings of Japanese soldiers during the war as a vehicle through which to arrive at a deeper understanding of who these soldiers were. Ohnuki-Tierney writes:

Clint Eastwood’s film Letters from Iwo Jima begins and ends sixty years after the end of the war it depicts. At the start, a team of Japanese investigators is searching for whatever may have been left by Japanese soldiers holed up on Iwo Jima, part of a group of Pacific islands around 1,000 kilometres south of Tokyo. The team finds a large sack buried where the soldiers had made their last headquarters. The closing scene of the film shows hundreds of letters and postcards the soldiers wrote to their families and friends but were never sent spilling out of this sack.
The letters symbolize the frail thread of humanity that these soldiers, facing imminent death and trapped in a war their country soon lost, managed to hold onto.

Likewise, Ohnuki-Tierney’s own work focuses on a collection of diaries and letters by the tokkotai (kamikaze pilots) in order to confront the various myths and stereotypes surrounding these tragic figures, and seek out “the humanity behind the brutality of war.” Taken in tandem, both of these new works prove to be indispensable corrections to the history of Japan and World War II. Read the preface to the book.