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Pacific Theater Takes Its Turn At Dominance

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The European Theater tends to dominate cinema, but there are a handful of films that explore the Pacific Theater as well. Here are a few of the most memorable and most recent to grace the screen.

Iwo Jima

1. “Flags of Our Fathers/Letters From Iwo Jima” (2006): Like “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” Eastwood’s pair of films explore both sides of the conflict, with the American perspective in “Fathers” and the Japanese perspective in “Letters.” “Letters” is considered the stronger picture, despite its “art-film” sensibilities, and has been nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award.


2. “The Bridge on the River Kwai” (1957): David Lean’s classic Best Picture winner follows a Japanese POW camp that forces British soldiers to build a bridge in Burma. Highlighted by a bravura performance from Alec Guinness, it explores the descent into madness that accompanies war.


3. “Midway” (1976): A star-studded cast led by Henry Fonda and Charlton Heston highlights this film about the Battle of Midway. Produced in the vein of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” it heavily features both sides of the conflict, though the soap opera dramatics tended to diffuse some of its impact.


4. “The Thin Red Line” (1998): Terrance Malick’s ethereal meditation on war and nature is set against the backdrop of the Allied invasion of Guadalcanal. It received a mixed critical and commercial reception, partially due to the overwhelming popularity of Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan,” which was released around the same time.


5. “Windtalkers” (2002): Directed by John Woo and starring Nicholas Cage, “Windtalkers” follows Najavo soldiers whose native language became a code used by the Allies. Less realistic than other modern war films, it was also considered less effective.


6. “From Here to Eternity” (1954)/”Tora! Tora! Tora!” (1970)/”Pearl Harbor” (2001): All three of these films explore the attack on Pearl Harbor in different ways, with varying emphasis on the battle itself. “From Here to Eternity” is a classic, with strong performances, especially from Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra. “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was a joint project between American and Japanese studios, which produced a complex, but inconsistent film.


7. “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988): A tragic look at the civilian side of the war, this moving anime, directed by Isao Takahata, follows two children struggling to survive alone in Japan during the waning days of World War II. Despite being animated, it is considered a classic, with mature approaches to adult themes.


8. “Empire of the Sun” (1987): Steven Spielberg’s coming-of-age story is about a spoiled British boy (Christian Bale) living in Shanghai, who eventually becomes separated from his parents and winds up as a prisoner in a Japanese camp. Not a Spielberg classic, it is still a very good film, anchored by a surprisingly mature performance from a young Bale.