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War stories from a non-vet

Haggis suggested Yamashita after reading her scripts

While Clint Eastwood could win his fifth and sixth Oscars, for directing and producing “Letters From Iwo Jima,” his pic’s co-writer Iris Yamashita, with Paul Haggis, is in contention for her first Academy Award.

She got the job after Eastwood determined, while doing pre-production on “Flags of Our Fathers,” that he needed someone with expertise on the Japanese perspective if he was to do a separate film detailing the war’s other viewpoint.

Oscar winner Haggis (“Crash”) suggested Yamashita after reading some of her unpublished scripts. Included in that package from CAA was a screenplay on the state of the Japanese people on the eve of World War II, which won Haggis over.

“I had written a few spec scripts but hadn’t done anything that was produced,” she explains. “I was working as a Web programmer at the time. When Paul decided he was going to hire me, he told me I could quit my job, but I didn’t want to until I signed my contract.”

Despite her Japanese heritage and the fact that her grandfather fought in World War II, there were very few people whom Yamashita could speak to directly about the Japanese experience on Iwo Jima. For research she frequently went to UCLA’s special military journal collection, where there was a diary, translated into English, of a soldier who fought at Iwo Jima. She also watched World War II documentaries on the History Channel.

After further extensive research, Yamashita decided to focus her script on Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, played by veteran actor Ken Watanabe. “Unlike some of the other Japanese brass on the island, Kuribayashi was more of a pragmatist and wasn’t prepared to commit suicide until the fight was all but over. “In Japanese culture, failure is not acceptable,” Yamashita says. “If you’ve disgraced yourself, you commit suicide. … I was surprised when I read letters from him saying how much he missed his son. My father is very traditional Japanese and would never write that. I found him to be a very interesting character.”

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