Actual Southern California locations where 2007's "Letters From Iwo Jima" was filmed.

"Letters From Iwo Jima" and "Flags of Our Fathers" are like bookends, Clint Eastwood's
two views of the same World War 2 battle in the Pacific, as seen from both sides.
In "Letters From Iwo Jima", we see the conflict from the side of the Japanese soldiers
who were faced with the impossible task of defending the rocky island.

But while much of "Flags of Our Fathers" was shot far away in Iceland,
almost all of "Iwo Jima" was filmed here in Southern California.
The trick was to get the SoCal locations to look like the Japanese island...

For instance, there was the problem of the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima.

Since Iwo Jima was an island in the Pacific, naturally we often see the
ocean in the film. But the actual filming location was nowhere near Japan.

Those beach shots were actually filmed on Leo Carrillo State Beach, in Malibu.

Leo Carrillo beach, and its picturesque rock formations, has been seen in
many movies, including the opening scenes of "Grease" and "Gidget",
and in television shows, such as "The O.C."

But the beaches on the island of Iwo Jima have black sand -
something you won't find naturally on any beach in Malibu.

So what did the producers do?  They trucked in black "sand", laid down plastic
(to preserve the natural environment) and - voila! - instant "black sand" beach!

You will find Leo Carrillo beach west of Point Dume, at 36000 Pacific Coast Highway,
just west of where Mulholland Drive meets Pacific Coast Highway,
Malibu (28 miles northwest of Santa Monica).

So, where did they get all that black sand? The same place where they filmed many of
the scenes where you couldn't see the ocean: at a volcano. A California volcano.

It's the Pisgah Volcano, a 321 feet-high, 1,600 feet-across volcanic cinder cone
in the Mojave Desert (30 miles east/southeast of Barstow, CA), south of I-40.

Because of mining, the cone no longer resembles a traditional volcano, and
is usually referred to as "Pisgah Crater". But the surrounding lava fields are
deep with black volcanic soil/cinder that resembles rough sand (on camera).

So, they not only shot scenes at Pisgah (using the cliffs of the crater
for background), they also trucked its black cinder to the beach for
shots where they needed us to see the ocean in the background.

(Here is a link to photos of the volcano.) 

So, what about all those scenes inside the caves & tunnels, where
the soldiers were hunkered down during the bombardment?

Well, they didn't have to travel far. Just 30 miles northeast of the Pisgah Crater is
the historic spot that served as Walter Knott's inspiration for Knott's Berry Farm:
the original Calico Ghost Town in Barstow, CA.

Before it was a ghost town, Calico was a booming silver mine, so the hills
and rugged canyons behind the town are riddled with weaving tunnels
and caves, dug by Old West miners in search of precious ore.

The producers they used these caves & canyons of the Calico Mountains to recreate
the tunnels that the Japanese soldiers dug into the side of Mount Suribachi
(along with a few later shots filmed on sets built at Warner Bros. studio).

You'll find Calico Ghost Town at 36600 Ghost Town Road, in Yermo, CA.

(That's about 120  miles northeast of Los Angeles, off the I-15.)

One flashback scene shows the Japanese general, Kuribayashi, receiving a gift of a
Colt 45 handgun from an American friend at a farewell banquet at what is
supposed to be the "Fort Bliss Country Club" in Texas.

They shot that ballroom scene at the clubhouse at the Griffith Park Golf Courses,
off Griffith Park Drive, in L.A.'s own Griffith Park.


The photos on this page are stills from the DVD of "Letters From Iwo Jima"
(which you can buy by clicking here) and are copyright DreamWorks SKG.