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Class Notes May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Taking Father to the Oscars
Iris Yamashita, Revelle '88


Before Warner Brothers hired Iris Yamashita, ’88, to write the screenplay for Letters from Iwo Jima, she was virtually unknown in the movie business and made her living as a web programmer. Since her breakthrough assignment, she has lived through an array of surreal, Hollywood moments. She teamed with Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Paul Haggis and Ken Watanabe to make Letters and she nabbed a 2007 Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Although Yamashita boasts a B.S. in bioengineering from UCSD and M.S. in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, she has always considered herself a writer. She minored in the subject at UCSD, where she dreamed of becoming a novelist. She especially enjoyed a course she took with Alice McDermott, a National Book Award Winner.

After college, Yamashita floundered a bit as a professional writer—until she tried her hand at screenwriting. “I can actually finish a script,” she says, laughing. “Screenwriting is the medium for me.”

Letters, which is Yamashita’s first script to be made into a movie, is a haunting portrayal of the battle of Iwo Jima, told from the Japanese point of view. Eastwood decided to make the film as a companion to Flags of our Fathers, and Letters is the more critically acclaimed of the two. Ty Burr of the Boston Globe wrote that “Letters represents filmmaking so assured it can take your breath away.”

Both of Yamashita’s parents endured WWII in Japan, which she says indirectly influenced her writing process. “But I was also born in America and I consider myself an American, so I wanted to be fair to the American side, as well,” says Yamashita.

Yamashita’s parents also influenced her decision to pursue the sciences while she was at UCSD. In fact, her father was opposed to her writing, demanding that she strive for a practical job.

Today, Yamashita says that her father has changed his tune. He was her date at the Oscars, where he nervously stepped on her dress. In fact, Yamashita says that if you watch the Oscar broadcast, he gets more camera time than she does.

“I think he was more of a star than I,” she jokes.

—Courtney Baird

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Letters from Iwo Jima

"Although Yamashita boasts a B.S. in bioengineering from UCSD and M.S. in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, she has always considered herself a writer. "