Letters from Iwo Jima: Los Angeles based-actors create the World War II film

Letters from Iwo Jima, Ken Watanabe

Ken Watanabe as General Kuribayashi in "Letters from Iwo Jima"

Letters from Iwo Jima: Los Angeles based-actors create the World War II film

Cultural News, 2007 January Issue

Letters from Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood’s latest World War II film is gaining popularity in Japan and the U.S.  Despite the fact that the actual battle took place on an island in the Pacific Ocean, most of the scenes for the movie were shot in March and April 2006, at an old silver mine in a desert near Barstow, which is located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

Along with several famous actors recruited from Tokyo, a substantial number of Los Angeles-based actors and actresses contributed to the film.

Cultural News reports on the profiles of four Los Angeles-based actors who appeared in the film Letters from Iwo Jima.

Yuki Matsuzaki as Private Nozaki

Yuki Matsuzaki plays the role of “Private Nozaki” who is a buddy of one of the main characters, and who eventually kills himself with a hand grenade during a mass suicide in a cave at Suribachi Mountain.

Matsuzaki, 25, was born and raised in Miyazaki city, in Miyazaki prefecture.  He started acting at the age of 7 in a small theatrical group that performs children’s tales in his hometown on the island of Kyushu.

He came to the U.S. when he was 18. While living in New York City, all his money was stolen and he became homeless. Then he began singing and performing on the streets of Times Square. After he was cast in an independent action film in New York, he decided to move to Los Angeles. Matsuzaki was cast in The Last Samurai as an officer. His website is www.yukimatsuzaki.com.

Toda Toshi

Toshi Toda as Col. Adachi

Toshi Toda plays the role of “Col. Adachi” who chose to order a suicide attack rather than follow his commander’s protracted tactics. Tokyo native Toda started his acting career at Gekidan Shiki in Tokyo in three-year- period and moved to New York City.

After Toda spent 17 years as the Broadway musical actor, he chose to become a movie actor in Hollywood. Toda has been in Los Angeles for 15 years and takes various roles in films and television dramas. He previously appeared in Pearl Harbor as a Japanese dentist who witnessed the Japan’s attack at his dental office.

Black Yukari

Yukari Black as Mother

Yukari Black plays the role of “Mother” who is harassed by an aggressive patrol officer in Tokyo in a memorable flashback scene.  Also, her voice is heard as Tokyo Rose in Flags of Our Fathers.

Yukari was born in Hamamatsu city in Shizuoka prefecture.  Since she was 3, she has been on stage as an actress, singer, dancer, and songwriter, in a variety of styles.

She has a degree in Performing Arts from Tamagawa University in Tokyo.  Most recently, she has formed a taiko group called TYT which performed her original songs at the Japan Expo in Los Angeles in November 2006. Her theater credits include Sakiko in The Nadeshiko, Lady Thiang in The King and I, and Solange in Follies.  She has been in Los Angeles for 13 years.

Watanabe Hiroshi

Hiroshi Watanabe as Lt. Fujita

Hiroshi Watanabe, formerly of Tokyo, portrays “Lt. Fujita” who is an assistant for the commander.  His most recent film appearance was in The Last Samurai. He also worked in several plays by the internationally acclaimed director Elizabeth Hoffman of the ICAP Theatre Company.

Nozaki and Saigo

Yuki Matsuzaki as Nozaki and Kazunari Ninomiya as Saigo in "Letters from Iwo Jima"

Film: Letters from Iwo Jima

Sixty-one years ago, U.S. and Japanese armies met on Iwo Jima.  Decades later, several hundred letters are unearthed from that stark island’s soil. The letters give faces and voices to the men who fought there, as well as the extraordinary general who led them.

The Japanese soldiers are sent to Iwo Jima knowing that, in all probability, they will not come back. Among them are Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), a baker who wants only to live to see the face of his newborn daughter; Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara), an Olympic equestrian champion known around the world for his skill and his honor; Shimizu (Ryo Kase), a young former military policeman whose idealism has not yet been tested by war; and Lieutenant Ito (Shidou Nakamura), a strict military man who would rather accept suicide than surrender.

Leading the Japanese defense is Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), whose travels in America have revealed to him the hopeless nature of war but have also given him strategic insight into how to take on the vast American armada streaming in from across the Pacific.

With little defense other than sheer will and the volcanic rock of the island itself, Gen. Kuribayashi’s unprecedented tactics transform what was predicted to be a quick and bloody defeat into nearly 40 days of heroic and resourceful combat.

Almost 7,000 American soldiers were killed on Iwo Jima; more than 20,000 Japanese troops perished. The black sands of Iwo Jima are stained with their blood, but their sacrifices, their struggles, their courage and their compassion live on in the letters they sent home.

Letters From Iwo Jima is being released worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures, and has been rated “R” by the MPAA for “graphic war violence.”

Official Site: Letters from Iwo Jima

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