Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) Screenplay Analysis

Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), written by Iris Yamashita, is a classic. It’s also considered a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers (2006), the latter telling the battle from the Americans’ POV.

Script Formatting Notes

  • Draft Read: Fourth Draft, March 9, 2006
  • Type: Spec
  • Page Count: 118
  • Reading Speed: Medium
  • Setting(s): Japan, Iwo Jima, U.S.A.
  • Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple days
  • Genre(s): Memoir, Coming of Age
  • Theme(s): Honor, Tradition, War, Death, Chaos
  • Protagonist Change: Moderate

Overall Thoughts

Is concept king? In other words, can a strong premise carry an otherwise not-as-strong (I don’t want to say lackluster because this script is far from that) script? In this case, I think the answer is yes.

The script tells the story of the Battle of Iowa Jima from the Japanese perspective. It’s a unique viewpoint for western cinema, and the script is filled with symbolism, conflict, and chaos, both figuratively and literally. And that alone makes for a strong script.

But there isn’t anything riveting, hopeful, hero’s journey… whatever positive you want to call it… here. It’s a war movie. One that shows the lunacy of war. It’s brutal and graphic.


The Battle of Iwo Jima was a monumental battle in WWII, yet for some reason, to me, this battle, as well as the Pacific Theatre as a whole, always seems secondary in coverage to the European Theatre. That’s a topic for others to explore.

The screenplay follows a low-ranking Japanese soldier, Saigo, and his quest simply to live. Spoiler Alert: he does. But basically, everyone else dies. And mentally, he does too. This isn’t a screenplay about defending one’s homeland, it’s about just trying to live.


Each character represents a certain ideology/theme. Saigo is the innocent soldier watching it all. Kuribayashi appears reasonable and somewhat caring, even when under immense pressure. Other soldiers range from fanatical to depressed to scared.

Dialogue & Pacing

The dialogue is relatively straightforward. I’m actually not sure if the dialogue is translated from Japanese, which would make sense. Nonetheless, there are a few lines that clearly have a poetic quality:

Now is the time for you to step up and lead the family. The life of your father is like a flicker of flame before the wind (page 44).

The script is linear. I didn’t pay close attention to the climax, but as more characters are either killed, wander off, or left behind, the Japanese situation becomes more desperate. It all leads up to Saigo breaking down in front of the Americans.

Emotional Impact

War movies always are going to be impactful (ex. Saving Private Ryan). The unique side of this script is that it is from the, “enemy’s,” perspective. Of course, it humanizes (most of) the Japanese. To me, it’s an anti-war movie, with a pro-US undertone.

Best Part of The Script

Once the battle begins. The night-time raids are described in great detail, as are the flashbacks. There is a scene with strong dialogue between the soldiers on page 92.