From Dirty Harry to globally revered auteur - Clint Eastwood’s career knows no bounds. His latest movie, Letters From Iwo Jima deftly shines the spotlight on the Japanese experience during WW11 and the great man told Virgin Media why at 76, he still feels lucky.
VM: Why did chose to shoot a movie from the Japanese point of view?
CE: I got curious about the fact that it was a unique defence, in that the Japanese would build beach fortifications, and they'd just hold off as long as they could. Sometimes they'd do kind of a banzai holdout charge, and then it was all over; this defence was obviously thought up by somebody who was very creative, with a modern mentality. He decided to take advantage of this island; they didn’t have places to hide, so he dug miles of tunnels that interconnected with bunkers - they built hospitals underground, they lived underground, so, they took an immense amount of bombs and naval shelling.
VM: So it was actually the character of General Tadamichi Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe) that fired your imagination?
CE: I thought he must be an interesting guy! So I called a friend of mine in Japan and asked him if there were any books on Kuribayashi and he said, ‘Yes.’ There was a book of letters he had written to his daughter, son and wife; some of it was letters when he was on Iwo, but most dated back from 1928 when he was an envoy from the Japanese empire to the United States. He studied English at Harvard, travelled all over the States and made a lot of friends. He didn’t believe Japan should be fighting the States; he believed, from a pragmatic point of view it was much too big an industrial complex - but you do what everybody asked because you're military.
VM: How would you describe your approach to directing?
CE: Just trust your instincts; there’s an old staying in golf - you’ve studied the swing many times, and you practice and practice, but when you stand over the ball, you just have to trust your swing! And if you don't trust it, you'll ruin it; your brain will take over…it’s the same thing here, you just trust your swing!
VM: Why did you choose newcomer Iris Yamashita to write the screenplay?
CE: I asked Paul Haggis (Crash, Flags of Our Fathers screenwriter) if he had somebody who we could get at a reasonable price because I didn’t have any money left from the other picture! And he found a young Japanese girl who had written several screenplays, none of which had sold, and she came up with this idea of seeing it through the eyes of a young private who was conscripted into the army - and then we meet the general through the eyes of this private. So she came up with a good storyline, I said, ‘Write that up - it sounds terrific’, and then I went off to Iceland to do Flags.
VM: You’re 76 and still going strong…do you feel lucky!
CE: I always felt blessed that I was able to make a living in a profession that not a lot of people can make a living at, and I was able to do something I liked, rather than be in a job that I hated. I guess when I was younger I did so many jobs that just had minimal demands on any kind of talent. I thought, ‘Jeez, it’s tough to spend your life doing something you really don’t like.’ I was lucky there - so I just keep doing it, that’s what I do!
23rd February 2007