Last night, I spent the evening re-watching Letters From Iwo Jima, the 2006 companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers. These two are Clint Eastwood's films about the Japanese-American war that happened in the volcanic island of Iwo Jima. While Flags tells the side of the Americans in the war, Iwo Jima tells the story of the war from the Japanese perspective.
I haven't seen Flags of Our Fathers as war movies are not my usual fare. But they also say that if you're just gonna watch one, watch Iwo Jima, as it is the better film. After watching the movie, it is a no-brainer that tears (and so much tears) had been shed. I do cry easily but I can't imagine how you can't cry after that movie.
As the somewhat obsessive person that I am, after the movie, I spent until around half past 2AM reading various articles about the film. I read reviews and interviews but mostly, I was looking for what these critics think of Nino in the movie.
Ninomiya Kazunari played the part of private Saigo, a baker who was drafted against his wishes. He has a wife and an infant daughter and all he wants is to return to his family. Nino said of his character, “I play an ordinary baker who is thrown into a situation that forces him to lose his humanity in order to survive.... The war is so cruel that it leaves nothing behind, and the scars of war can never fade.” Together with Ken Watanabe's Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, their characters were at the center of the film.
Nino is an unknown face in the West but over here in the East, he is a popular star, a large part of it due to him being a member of Japan's idol group, Arashi. (But back in 2006-2007, Arashi was just starting to be really popular). Even if I wasn't into war films, I definitely would eventually watch this film, all because of Nino. All because I'm a huge Arashi fan.
I have read some interviews and background of the casting process for this movie. Apparently, aside from Watanabe which Eastwood handpicked to play Kuribayashi (he was impressed with his work in Memoirs of a Geisha and The Last Samurai), all the other casts were chosen through audition. As Eastwood was understandably unfamiliar with most of the people who auditioned, he - together with the late Phyllis Huffman - just looked at the films and audition tapes. He said, "Acting is acting. When it’s good, it’s good, even if you don’t understand the language that’s being spoken."
From J&A, the management had Nino audition for the role of Shimizu (which eventually went to Ryo Kase) and they had another one submitted for the role of Saigo
Nino was amazing in this film. Representing the everyman, he portrayed really well the struggle of an ordinary individual thrust in war. It was a performance indeed deserving of an award. And I wasn't the only one who thought that. Most of the reviews that mentioned him thought he was great too, with only one review (that I found) saying he was "slightly disappointing" - though I fail to see how they could say he was disappointing.
During the press conference in Paris, someone asked him, "How do you feel today: rather cool and professional or a little nervous?” And Nino responded with, “Well, I am rather well known in Japan but for some time recently I have been abroad (promoting Iwo Jima) in front of those who don’t know me and I am not used to this, which I find bizarre.” That answer was so Nino and I laughed a bit when I read that. However, I do wonder how the audience and the press took that answer.
Another article about Nino that I came across with was from The Guardian, and one line caught my eye. It was at the part where the article talked about what’s next for Nino after Iwo Jima and it mentioned the Arashi movie Kiiroi Namida and the drama, Haikei, Chichiue-sama but it also mentioned Nino “also sifting through plenty of new offers from the US.” Well, I was not surprised to hear that but I did wonder what happened to those offers. Why didn’t he make another Hollywood movie after Iwo Jima despite the numerous offers? I found the answer in a magazine preview for an August 2014 episode of Nino-san translated by zero-monday-arashi on tumblr. Apparently, he turned them ALL down. Why?
"When I went to Hollywood to film, we had to record many episodes of our regular shows in advance, and only the four of them could promote our new single…
If I have to weigh Arashi and Hollywood on a scale, I will definitely choose Arashi."
Can I cry now? That was totally selfless of Nino and it shows how he values the group.
When I set out to write this long blahblah post about Nino after re-watching Letters from Iwo Jima I never expected it will end with another evidence that there’s no one who love Arashi more than Arashi themselves.
Nino may never make another Hollywood movie again, (which personally, I think is a shame because that kind of acting talent deserves to be seen by a lot more people) but even if Letters from Iwo Jima was his first and last, atleast it’s one heck of a film.
(screengrabbed from the 2014.04.19 ep
of Arashi ni Shiyagare with the casts of Amazing Spiderman 2