Thursday, 11 December 2014

Alternate Best Actor 2006: Ken Watanabe in Letters From Iwo Jima

Ken Watanabe did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in Letters From Iwo Jima. 

Letters From Iwo Jima is an excellent film that depicts the pivotal battle for the island of Iwo Jima from the perspective of the Japanese. 

Ken Watanabe plays the Japanese General in charge of the defense of the Island of Iwo Jima which soon will be attacked by American forces. Watanabe has an interesting role as he plays who would technically be the unseen and unknown villain in most World War II films set in the Pacific theater. Watanabe does not portray the General as villain working for an evil regime in fact he is quite the opposite as Kuribayashi first arrives on the scene. Watanabe carries himself with a strong commanding presence as the General begins to instruct the men. Watanabe though along with the command has a considerable natural warmth he brings in the part to. There is a naturalism optimism about Watanabe’s manner in the scene and effectively allows Kuribayashi to be the inspirational figure he should be upon his arrival.

This is rather interestingly undercut by the fact that one of the first things we hear from
Kuribayashi is his thoughts which is basically accepting his fate which is to die defending his country. Watanabe is very affecting by having this somberness that is pervasive in his performance. Watanabe is particularly good as he very quietly suggests this in his scenes with his men, but as a man trying to cover up his own hesitations. Watanabe is very good as he depicts Kuribayashi as a devoted soldier as he fervently attempts to make the right adjustments to make the island's defenses as formidable as he is able to make them, but also a man who is well aware of the futility of his objective. Watanabe make this inconsistency entirely understandable as he portrays Kuribayashi as having the convictions to his men, yet in his personal feelings reflect a reasonable man.

Watanabe has two especially great contrasting scenes where he motivates the troops. The first time is just before the beginning of the battle and it's a terrific scene for Watanabe as he shows Kuribayashi attempting to reinforce the ideals of Empire. In this scene Watanabe has a great forceful intensity as Kuribayashi fulfills this particular role. There is a coldness though that Watanabe suggests that this is obviously not the true nature of the General. Watanabe shows the effectiveness of this sort of speech, but there is one truer to his heart near the end of the film when Kuribayashi rallies his men for a final charge. Watanabe presents a far greater depth of feeling showing now that all of what the General is in this speech as he does believe it will be his last stand to protect his family. It's a powerful scene and particularly remarkable due to the contrasts that Watanabe presents between the moments. 

Kuribayashi is not always fulfilling his role as General though and the film does leave several moments where Kribayashi reflects back on his life including his time in America. The brief flashbacks are limited but well handled by Watanabe. He does well to make it at different Kuribayashi in the past. Instead of the somber man Watanabe instead portrays the enthusiasm of youth living in a very different world than the one he ends up in. The majority of the scenes though do not necessarily depict what Kuribayashi is thinking. Watanabe is excellent in these moments and there really is not a lot being said. In fact some of the scene merely depict him maybe reading or writing letter that is all. That is all that Watanabe needs though as he creates such poignancy in these moments as Watanabe reflects the happiness of the past while facing the sorrow of the present. It's wonderful work as he gives life to the letters from Iwo Jima.

Watanabe's screen time is somewhat limited due to the nature of the film where he goes back and forth between several men involved in the conflict. There is enough focus on Kuribayashi and perspective given to him that I don't hesitate calling him lead though. Watanabe's presence is felt throughout, and you are never at loss for where Kuribayashi is in terms of dealing with the battle. The film returns back to Watanabe's ongoing depiction of the psychological wear of the battle, which is not helped by men committing suicide against his orders, as the American front line slowly comes closer to his headquarters. It's a rather remarkable portrait of the career soldier devoted to a cause he does not truly believe in. Watanabe seemingly with such ease makes that conflict understandable realizing the human, really rather gentlemanly, nature of the man within along with the fearless convictions of a man of duty.


luke higham said...

Louis: Ratings & thoughts for the rest of the cast.

Matt Mustin said...

He's brilliant here. The review sounds more like a 5, but what made you decide on a 4.5?

Anonymous said...

Louis, I 100% agree on Barraza and Kirshner, but I personally liked Kikuchi much, much more. What are your rating and thoughts on the cast of The Black Dahlia?

Michael Patison said...

Luke: I take it you really like The Missing. I guess that means I should watch it?

All: Does anybody watch The Game and/or Masters of Sex

Along another TV-related vein, who's is everybody's favorite Doctor and companion in Doctor Who? If either is from the original series that's great, but I'd also love to hear opinions on the reboot.

RatedRStar said...

Babel for me was just a poor film, its just too heavy handed and forced down my throat, it feels like im watching a Bob Geldof interview.

@Michael: My favorite would be David Tennant, because I think he struck the balance perfectly between comedy and drama, something most of the other doctors had a bit of trouble with, my favorite companion has to be Sarah Jane Smith, shes the only one I would describe as iconic.

I am not really a huge of fan of the current series, I think the David Tennant series was the high point, The Matt Smith series was fine on comedy but on drama it lacks a punch, The Peter Capaldi ones I think arent very good at all and just cant get a consistent tone right at all, despite Capaldi being a great doctor.

Michael Patison said...

Daniel: I still love the show, but I basically agree with your overall series assessment.

Going solely by the Doctor himself, my favorite would probably be Smith, just because he's so damn energetic and fun, while also being very good at making all that a sort of facade over the pain he's caused and experienced in his past. Then it's really a toss-up between Tennant and Capaldi, with Tennant probably coming out on top.

Tennant's period was easily the best because the seasons themselves were about telling stories and developing characters using sci-fi. It allowed him (and his companions, most notably/to greatest effect Billie Piper) to have those mixes of comedy and drama in quick succession, creating the bipolarity that is so vital to realizing the man.

The issue became that, with Steven Moffat as showrunner (as opposed to the guy who comes in an writes bar none the 1 or 2 best episodes in the season), it wasn't about stories and characters, but about putting some game-changing revelation at the end of the season and then going back through and making sure the yarn that the season wove got there without the viewer figuring it out too early but still being able to remember all of the relevant bits of info. If character development or dramatic emotion occur, it was, and is, almost purely happenstance, it seems. What I liked about Smith was that he took Moffat's ceaseless freneticism and added flashes here and there of the troubled man beneath that he was trying so hard to forget about.

The Day of the Doctor is such a brilliant episode (at least it is in my opinion), because Moffat slowed things down periodically (i.e. the scenes in the barn on Gallifrey). The issue, though, was that it was basically the same amount of story as a normal episode, but in 1.5X the run-time. Maybe Who should just have 1:15 long episodes (Oh, God, help us all).

I 100% agree about Capaldi's tenure, thus far. He's absolutely stunning and has taken the Doctor in a wonderfully startling new direction that is so much darker, but the writing around him has been remarkably poor. His best/most entertaining/most consistent stories have been almost throw-aways (with the exception of the excellent Listen). There were several times watching the season when I legitimately questioned if whoever was writing the episode had any idea how to make a character brusque, but likable. At moments like those, Capaldi struggles, but so would literally any other actor. He's had nothing good to work with (with the exception of maybe 2 or 3 episodes), and yet it feels like I've already seen him do so much.

Michael Patison said...

In terms of companions, it's hard. Sarah Jane is the easy choice because she is so iconic (I'd agree she's the only one, ever, that has that iconic status). Billie Piper is great and I loved her on first viewing, but she ceases to be fantastic and is just really good on subsequent watches. While Freema Agyeman's season was damn good ("Whatever you do, don't blink!"), it took so long for Tennant to rebound from Rose and realize Martha was there that she never really had the chance to develop to any large degree. Catherine Tate was terrific and she'd be my choice, if not for her final exit, which was a suckerpunch to the gut and, in my mind, basically nulled and voided her entire season.

So that leaves me with the Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill or Jenna Coleman, and I'm going with Clara. It has a lot to do with the fact that my idea of the perfect girl is basically that character (looks and all), but I also thing she's had tremendous chemistry with both Smith and Capaldi in such fascinatingly different ways, and she's also a much better all around actress than Gillan, who often struggled finding enough dramatic weight sometimes when she needed it. She was spunky, sure, but sometimes she just came off as annoying (for instance, we should be able to feel her post-abandonment hardening in The Girl Who Waited at least to a small extent and I never have been able to at all, so she just seems stupid as a result). Darvill is brilliant in my opinion, but he does little more than deliver quips with expert timing and precision, so he can't really count. (His work in Broadchurch on the other hand, is tremendous.)

I could pull Alex Kingston out as River is high up there, too, but I can't, in good conscience, count her as a bonafide companion (Firefly reference!!!).

RatedRStar said...

I also think that Moffat and Gatiss as well seem to be jumbling between Doctor Who and Sherlock so that the focus just isnt there, I actually think Sherlock is better written and has more effort put into it now hence why Sherlock seems to be pulling all the awards and popularity.

Michael Patison said...

I agree. It 100% seems like it's getting all of Moffat's focus. I also think Moffat's brain is just wired to write things for Holmes to solve. Their puzzle-esque nature is similar to the oftentimes ridiculous things that happen to resolve irresolvable situations in DW.

RatedRStar said...

Louis on another topic, I remember you not really liking Boyhood all that much, I imagine you will be disappointed if it does win best picture since it might be the favourite.

Louis Morgan said...


Ninomiya - 3(He's very much overshadowed by Watanabe as well as several other actors in the film. I did find him to be good enough though in just portraying the guy who mainly is trying not to die)

Ihara - 3.5(Kinda a miniaturized version of Watanabe's performance. He never quite hits the heights of that work, but he brings the needed poignancy to his pivotal scenes)

Kase - 3(Does the cold distant routine well enough to suggest his character's background in the most fervent group of soldiers, but is quite affecting when he opens up revealing the true nature of his character)

Nakamura - (His role is relatively simple in being the authoritative jerk but he does it well enough. His best moment though is his reaction when his banzai attempt fails because no one ever came near him)


No real reason I suppose because I have no reservations towards his performance.


Johansson - 1.5(I tend to find her a bit bland even when people like her, but she is especially wooden here)

Eckhart - 2(Well he's no Russell Crowe that's for sure. Eckhart was all over the place, which funny since he gave his most assured performance this year. It seems like he never knows what to make of the tone as he sometimes seems to be going stylized than doesn't. He never effectively conveyed what his character was going through, and there something lacking about his whole work)

Swank - 1(She's just awful here. This is the type of performance that should make you appreciate all other Femme Fatales a little more because of how bad she is. There's nothing alluring about her whatsoever, and I never believed anything involving her character because of Swank)

Starr - 2.5(Interesting to not see him play a thug for once. Nevertheless he does not get to do much even though I thought he was fine)

Shaw - 3(Now I could see how you might hate her performance completely because she is so over the top. The thing is she sticks to a tone though and goes with it, I wish the film had understood that was needed. She's very campy but I do think it worked with the ridiculous way her character was handled)

Hartnett - 2.5(He actually probably has the most thankless role since he has to be part of every part of the film which means dealing with some particularly jarring tones. Well he's no Guy Pearce, and he is a bit bland, but I did think he had a few good moments in his performance)


I agree with basically about Babel, it sounds like perhaps I liked it a little more than you did, but I never thought it added up to much. Also how did it win Best Score? The only time I really thought the score was that remarkable was when it just used The Last Emperor's.

In regards to Boyhood, yes I would prefer it to not be the frontrunner, but I should note I just did not think it was that good opposed to actually hating it. Also at the moment I don't even have a horse to back since I have not seen any of its main competitors.

Anonymous said...

I liked Babel... And I actually liked the Score. Louis I also agree with most of your ratings and thoughts on The Black Dahlia, but definitely NOT on Shaw. I thought she was just awful, really awful, and I usually like her. I thought she was hammy and completely unbelievable - it was also the script's fault, but to me her acting was just plain bad. But I agree with Kirshner being amazing, Eckhart being all over the place, Johannson being very bland, Harnett being forgettable but okay and Swank being totally miscast and never convincing.

Louis Morgan said...

I completely understand why you feel that way about Shaw.

Anonymous said...

Louis you said you often find Johansson bland, but what do you think of her in Match Point? I thought she was great.

luke higham said...

Just saw The Hobbit: BOTFA.
My ratings for the cast:
Freeman - 4 (leaning towards a 4.5)
Armitage - 4.5 (He stole the film for me).
Evans - 4
McKellen - 3.5
Blanchett - 3
Lee - 3
Cumberbatch - 3
Lilly - 3
Pace - 2.5
Bloom - 2

John Smith said...

Louis, what is your favorite Richard Burton performance?

JackiBoyz said...

How do most people find these films, cause I imagine you dont always pay, like is there a site that you use at all, um Daniel? what about you.

luke higham said...

JackiBoyz: I use either, or

RatedRStar said...

Jack, my advice is, use Putlocker which is what I use but if not I just go to my local cinema on my own like a twat lol unless if the film is there on Putlocker, but if it isnt there, as Luke said, try Solarmovie or Putlocker they are fine if you know how to use them, but both contains a lot of shit unknown films before you find the good stuff. If you are wondering how I find all the Hong Kong films, I basically either find it on youtube or find it under a different language and download a translator file.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: I guess were both twats then, since I'm exactly the same when it comes to seeing a film in a cinema.

RatedRStar said...

@Luke: I did not mean to offend you like that =( I was purely talking about myself rather than others.

luke higham said...

RatedRStar: Don't worry, I was not offended at all, Just meant that the feeling's mutual. :)

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous: Haven't seen her there.


The Spy Who Came in From the Cold