Letters from Iwo Jima: Eastwood’s WWII Film, Smash Hit in Japan

“Letters From Iwo Jima,” which opened at five U.S. theaters Wednesday, is bringing huge Japanese audiences to the theaters.

Clint Eastwood’s Japanese-language companion piece to “Flags of Our Fathers” has dominated the Japanese box-office during the past two weekends. Drawing $13.3 million in its first 11 days days through Tuesday, the film has nearly matched the $13.4 million “Flags” has taken during its two-month run in the country.

With a decline of only 26% in its second weekend, “Letters From Iwo Jima” will have long legs in coming weeks. “Letters” grossed $3.2 million at 401 playdates last weekend to top the launch of “Eragon” by 46%.

Titled “Iwo Jima Karano Tegami” for the Japanese market, the movie tells the story of the WWII battle from the Japanese perspective. It received strong reviews locally along with a Nov. 15 world premiere at Tokyo’s Budokan arena attended by Eastwood and the Japanese stars.

The presence of pop star-turned actor Kazunari Ninomiya in the cast is helping “Letters” attract younger demographic.

“This is such a unique movie that it’s become a cultural phenomenon in Japan,” noted Warner Intl. prexy of marketing Sue Kroll. Warner execs have predicted that “Letters” could top $40 million in Japan.

WWII movies have racked up respectable rather than blockbuster perfs in Japan in the past. “Pearl Harbor” topped $56 million, “Saving Private Ryan” took $37.2 million and Terrence Malick’s “Thin Red Line” $10.6 million.

Rather than dubbing the film, Warner will unspool “Letters” in the Japanese language with subtitles in all markets.

Eastwood developed the idea for “Letters” while shooting “Flags,” which has shown moderate traction at the box office so far with $33.6 million domestically and $21.4 million overseas–most of that in Japan, with France and Italy generating only mild biz.

“Flags” opens in the U.K. this weekend, followed by Germany next weekend and Spain in the first frame of 2007.