This film is the story of the assault on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II, as told from the perspective of the Japanese soldiers stationed on the island. Ken Watanabe plays the lead character of General Kuribayashi. In modern times, Japanese archeologists dig up the remains of Japanese soldiers on the island of Iwo Jima. Flashback to the times when the soldiers actually dug the tunnels for their encampments on the island. The Japanese are making a stand on an island, which becomes a pivotal point in World War II history. The Japanese grunts complain about having to dig the fox holes. Their commander yells at them for complaining.
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The Japanese General (played by Ken Watanabe) arrives from Japan to inspect what is going on. He finds the commander beating the Japanese grunts. He stops him from beating them further. He tells him to use less of the whip and give them more breaks. The Japanese general inspects the island by walking around it. He is surprised about how big it is. The Japanese commanders feel a lot of fear about their position. The island is small but it is strategically very important. The Japanese commanders ask every man to write a letter home to their loved ones, which they do. The Japanese General remembers how he used to admire the USA before the war. He climbs to the highest vantage point on the island to get the best view. Lt. Col. Nishi Played by Tsuyoshi Ihara) arrives from Japan. He is famous for riding a horse and winning the medal in the Olympics years before. He comes to the island with his horse. Nishi tells General Kuribayashi the defeat of the Japanese Imperial navy has already occurred and the island will be next.
The Japanese dig in for the oncoming assault. The officers on the island learn there will be no support from other parts of the Japanese military to protect the island because all the possible support has already been defeated. The grunts have a new edition to their squad. They think he is a spy. The food supplies are running very low. The grunts resent having an aristocrat from the Japanese army in their midst. One of them remembers how hard it was to get the news when he was demanded to go to war. Hie remembers this time when his young pregnant wife cries about all the men which go to war, but never come home.
The admiral makes the men dig caves for the onslaught. He sends one of the commanders back to Tokyo to ask for more support. The Japanese grunts are told they are outnumbered and they must target the medics of the US advance to have any chance of defeating them. Iwo Jima comes under air attack from the US forces. Nishi's horse is killed from the bombs of the first American air attack.
The Americans launch a massive naval attack by sending a naval fleet from Taipei. The Japanese Admiral rallies his men and says they will fight to the last man to defend the island as part of their homeland and he will be in front leading the fight. One of the Japanese grunts has to carry the chamber pot outside to empty it. When he does this, he sees hundreds of US navy ships nearby the island and attracts their fire. He drops the pot, but retrieves it. He is almost exploded by a shell which lands but does not explode next to him. The Americans land on the beach. The Japanese defend their position from the caves on the hillside.
The Americans advance and take the beach. They assault the Japanese fortified positions in the caves on the hillside. The Japanese commanders at the front lines, realize suicide is the only thing left for them to do. They instruct the troops to take a final suicide action. They kill themselves with their own grenades. The Japanese Commander shoots himself in the head with his pistol. Two of the Japanese grunts do not take their own lives and instead try to go north to reach the other Japanese camp. They make it to the other camp, but when they arrive they are almost killed for not fighting to the death in their previous position. The Japanese General intervenes and they are saved from death by the General at the last moment.
The Japanese soldiers are pushed back. There is infighting amongst the Japanese soldiers about what to do and conflicting orders which makes for much confusion. The Japanese General gets a message from command center in Tokyo. They will not be able to send reinforcements to Iwo Jima. The Japanese capture a wounded American soldier and treat him for his wounds. They question the American soldier for information. Nishi is able to question him in English. The Japanese spy tells the Japanese grunts he was not able to shoot a dog so he was discharged from the spying group. Nishi remembers when he had nice relationships with the Americans, when he was a celebrity after he won a medal at the Olympics. The American soldier, who was captured by the Japanese, dies. They find a letter from his mother in his pocket. The Japanese Commander is blinded in an attack. He tells his men to evacuate and to leave him behind. He commits suicide with his own rifle.
The Japanese grunts realize the American soldiers are the same as they are. They have the same words from their mothers in the letters they received from their moms. Two of the Japanese soldiers make plans to escape by going AWOL. One of them runs away with a different Japanese soldier. He escapes. but the Japanese soldier running behind him is shot in the back by a Japanese officer to stop the AWOL escape. The Japanese soldier surrenders to the Americans. He is put with another captured Japanese soldier. Two Americans watch over the Japanese soldiers as prisoners. Rather than keep them as prisoners they shoot them. The Japanese infantry finds the Japanese soldiers dead, and sees they were shot even they used a white flag for surrender. It becomes very clear to the Japanese they must fight or die to the last man, as there is no alternative.
The remaining Japanese soldiers on Iwo Jima are without food and water for five days. The Japanese General launches one final suicide mission to attack the American forces at night in the rain. The Japanese General leads the men in the assault. One Japanese soldier is left behind to burn all the Japanese military papers and documents. The Japanese General is injured in the assault. He orders one of his soldiers to kill him with a sword, but the soldier is shot before he is able to complete the task. The General shoots himself with his revolver committing suicide. He asks to be buried by the last remaining Japanese soldier. Before the Japanese soldier is able to bury him, the Americans overrun the position and capture the Japanese soldier. The Japanese archeologists uncover a buried cache of letters written by the Japanese soldier men right before they died in Iwo Jima.
Best part of story, including ending:
This movie provides an interesting perspective from the Japanese side about a pivotal battle in World War II history.
Best scene in story:
I like the scene when the Japanese soldiers discover a letter from the mother of a dead American soldier in his pocket and they realize how similar they are to each others as soldiers.
Opinion about the main character:
General Kuribayashi never gives up on his ideals and fights to his last breath, preferring to die by his own hand in suicide rather than surrender. This is very intense, but also very admirable.