Thursday, August 6, 2009

general kuribayashi's etegami

This week I finally had the chance to watch Letters from Iwo Jima, the second of the pair of films directed by Clint Eastwood portraying the Battle of Iwo Jima. While the first film, Flags of Our Fathers, depicts the battle from the American point of view, Letters from Iwo Jima portrays the same battle from the Japanese perspective, and is almost entirely in Japanese. Though I had heard the film received very high reviews (it is an excellent film), I had no particular interest in seeing it until I learned that it was both inspired by and based on the actual letters of Commander in Chief Tadamichi Kuribayashi (portrayed on screen by Ken Watanabe), and that these letters were, in fact, picture letters (ie: etegami)!

Kuribayashi wrote to his family frequently and obviously loved them deeply. As his children were still very young, he kept his letters simple and filled them with drawings. The picture letters were published by Shogakukan in 1992 as Gyokusai Soshireikan no Etegami (Picture Letters from Commander in Chief). Amazon now carries three books (that I know of) in English that incorporate the translations of these etegami. If you are interested, you may want to start with this one: Picture Letters from the Commander in Chief.


  1. Hmm, the U.S. version has a cover photo from the movie instead of one of his drawings. Then I found an interesting book called So Sad to Fall in Battle by Kumiko Kakehashi which looks like kind of an autobiography of Kuribayashi during his time on Iwa Jima based on his letters, sections of which are included. I loved the movie.

  2. Yes, of the three books I found, Kakehashi is the author/editor of two. She worked directly with Kuribayashi's family. So Sad to Fall in Battle is the second of the books (along with Picture Letters from the Commander in Chief) that inspired Eastwood to make the movie. There are a lot of websites that discuss the picture letters too. Some of them show several samples of the drawings and direct quotes from the book.