"All Quiet on the Western Front" was about Germans in World War I, but from a pacifist p.o.v.; "Tora! Tora! Tora!" included the Japanese angle on Pearl Harbor; the central characters in "The Blue Max" and "Cross of Iron" were Germans. Scattered other examples certainly exist. All the same, there are few moments in Hollywood cinema of any era as oddly unsettling as the one here, in which an American Marine charges toward the protagonists and is so manifestly perceived as the enemy.
That unfortunate young man is bayonetted to death by his Japanese captors. But the film's true intent comes across the second time a Yank is nabbed by the doomed members of the Imperial Army, when the injured grunt movingly establishes an unlikely bond with his aristocratic Japanese interrogator. There were compelling reasons why the war was fought, but the unusual focus of "Letters" is the humanity of the Japanese soldiers who longed for home just like anyone else, knowing they would never leave the tiny strip of land alive.
Naturally, U.S. war films of the era painted the Japanese as the most maniacal and barbaric of fighters, and many veterans and historians, Americans, Chinese and others, insist this was true. Pic might have done well to mention the emperor's endorsement of the "Death Before Surrender" edict of early 1945. But "Letters" makes the case that even the Japanese were divided among themselves.
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