|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
Tora! Tora! Tora! is a 1970 Japanese-American historical war film that dramatizes the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The film was directed by Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku and stars an ensemble cast, including Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, Sō Yamamura, E. G. Marshall, James Whitmore and Jason Robards.
Veteran 20th Century Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck, who had earlier produced The Longest Day (1962), wanted to create an epic that depicted what “really happened on December 7, 1941”, with a “revisionist’s approach”.
He believed that the commanders in Hawaii, General Short and Admiral Kimmel, though scapegoated for decades, provided adequate defensive measures for the apparent threats, including relocation of the fighter aircraft at Pearl Harbor to the middle of the base, in response to fears of sabotage from local Japanese. Despite a breakthrough in intelligence, they had received limited warning of the increasing risk of aerial attack. Recognizing that a balanced and objective recounting was necessary, Zanuck developed an American-Japanese co-production, allowing for “a point of view from both nations.” He was helped out by his son, Richard D. Zanuck, who was chief executive at Fox during this time.
Production on Tora! Tora! Tora! took three years to plan and prepare for the eight months of principal photography. The film was created in two separate productions, one based in the United States, directed by Richard Fleischer, and one based in Japan. The Japanese side was initially to be directed by Akira Kurosawa, who worked on script development and pre-production for two years. But after two weeks of shooting, he was replaced by Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku, who directed the Japanese sections.
Veteran 20th Century Fox executive Darryl F. Zanuck, who had earlier produced The Longest Day (1962), wanted to create an epic that depicted what “really happened on December 7, 1941”, with a “revisionist’s approach”. He believed that the commanders in Hawaii, General Short and Admiral Kimmel, though scapegoated for decades, provided adequate defensive measures for the apparent threats, including relocation of the fighter aircraft at Pearl Harbor to the middle of the base, in response to fears of sabotage from local Japanese. Despite a breakthrough in intelligence, they had received limited warning of the increasing risk of aerial attack.
Recognizing that a balanced and objective recounting was necessary, Zanuck developed an American-Japanese co-production, allowing for “a point of view from both nations.” He was helped out by his son, Richard D. Zanuck, who was chief executive at Fox during this time.
“Why Are The Winds And The Waves So Restless?”
On Sunday 7 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the US Pacific fleet in its moorings at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At the time, no state of war existed between the two nations. An ingenious pre-emptive strike, as the Japanese ‘hawks’ saw it, was condemned by the world as one of the greatest acts of treachery in modern history.
“Tora! Tora! Tora!” meticulously traces the build-up to Pearl Harbor by examining the diplomatic, military and intelligence events and developments on both sides. The film is unimpeachably even-handed, telling both sides’ stories simultaneously, and interleaving the Japanese and American versions with intelligence and an almost total absence of jingoism.
Japan’s warmongers considered their country to be trapped by history and geography. As the industrial nations surged forward in terms of prosperity and military might, Japan was in danger of being outstripped, having few natural resources of her own. If Japan was to compete with the USA and USSR, she would have to ‘reach out’ for the raw materials available in southern Asia and the Pacific, but this would mean confronting the USA, the great maritime power in the Pacific.
The film explains all this very well. We learn that the Japanese have an age-old tradition of striking against their enemies without warning, and that air superiority is the new doctrine. The brilliant Japanese planners such as Genda (played by Tatsuya Mihashi) have grasped the lessons of the European war and know the vital importance of naval air power. By 1941, battleships have become a liability – slow, lumbering dinosaurs which invite attack and cannot defend themselves against aircraft. The way forward is mobile air power, and that means aircraft carriers. If the Japanese can catch the American carriers at Pearl Harbor and destroy them, then the war will be won before it has properly started.
The Americans take a fateful decision to send out their carriers on reconnaissance missions. This strips Pearl Harbor of protection, but paradoxically ensures that Japan cannot win the war – no matter how spectacular the success of the surprise attack, the mission will fail if the US aircraft carriers survive.
Throughout the build-up, the Japanese navy chiefs such as Yamamoto (So Yamomura) have a snippet of classical Japanese poetry on their minds: “If all men are brothers, why are the winds and the waves so restless?” They take this to mean that it is the rule of nature for man to attack his fellow man. By the end of the film, Yamamoto has abandoned this view and now believes that “We have aroused a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve.”
The film catalogues the accidents and mistakes which combined to make Pearl Harbor a worse disaster for the USA than it need have been. American aircraft are bunched together in the middle of the airfield in order to reduce the risk of sabotage near the perimeter fence, but this helps the Japanese bombers to destroy them on the ground. Radar equipment cannot be placed in the best locations to give early warning, and in any event the radar data are misinterpreted when they predict the attack. Because the attack falls on a weekend, it is difficult for middle-ranking officers to contact military and political chiefs, and the contingency plans are inadequate. Radio Honolulu broadcasts through the night to guide a fleet of B-17’s to Hawaii, inadvertently acting as a navigation beacon for the Japanese warplanes.
If the painstaking build-up to the attack is a little slow and ponderous, it is certainly epic in scale, and when the action erupts it comes as a mighty climax. The tension is palpable as the Japanese planes take off from their carriers, black against the ominous dawn. What follows is a breath-taking cinematic coup as Pearl Harbor is ravaged.
Verdict – A historical account of almost documentary accuracy culminates in vivid action scenes. A marvellous film.
A definite must for anyone who’s curious about Pearl Harbor.
Author: Rob Deschenes (email@example.com) from Toronto, Ont. Canada
29 May 2001
I will be completely honest with all of you, I saw this movie to prepare for the upcoming 2001 block buster, PEARL HARBOR. TORA! TORA! TORA! seemed the perfect choice. Recent movies these days depressed me, but thanks to TORA! (and Clint Eastwood ‘s HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER), my enjoyment in watching movies returned. TORA! is an absolutely excellent film packed with incredibly well done acting and emotion and an overall feeling that leaves you blown away.
PEARL HARBOR has quite a bit to live up to after seeing this. The special effects produced in TORA! are completely out of this world (even after thirty years!). More credit goes to how well documented this story goes. The Americans and Japanese did a tremendously exceptional job of recreating the entire events leading up to and including the Pearl Harbor attack. Being a Canadian, I was confused a couple years ago when the local paper announced that the number two (of the top 100) event of the 1900’s was the attack on Pearl Harbor. I completely understand now and quite frankly am amazed at how both sides felt throughout the entire ordeal.
Simply put, TORA! TORA! TORA! deals with all the events, mistakes (both minor and MAJOR), people involved and attitudes leading up to and during the air raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Though not shown, we even have the general feeling of the U.S. President and the Japanese Emperor. Nothing is missed in this movie. It is as close to the actual depiction of Pearl Harbor you can get.
For 1970, the special effects are absolutely astonishing. Very little looks fake, and nothing looks over done (like many CGI effects do these days). When the first American battletanks are struck, the explosions are incredible. When the Zero crashes into the building, the explosion is eye catching. Everything is unbelievably excellent. The acting is also first rate, how the Americans handle the warnings of a Japanese attack (they’re nuts) was supremely well laid out. How the Japanese carefully planned the attack on Pearl Harbor was frighteningly well thought out.
Next credit must go to the music. Jerry Goldsmith has to be one of the greatest composers of all time. The suspense created on the morning of December 7 just before the attack is still hair chilling thirty years later. Nothing seems to be wrong with TORA! except the fact that it is a little too long. A couple times, I was hoping that the attack would just begin and get over with. My patience quickly subsided with that music score and with the Emperor’s poem. Very little is wrong with TORA! TORA! TORA!. It is a definite must see for anyone curious about how war works, how mistakes are made and how people respond to such attacks.
Excellent, if not one of the best documentary style movies of all time, as told from both sides, of the event that plunged the United States into the Second World War.
This movie reigns supreme over it’s 2001 version Pearl Harbor which is really a fictional love story confined within a true conflict. Tora Tora Tora is based on actual events leading up to this avoidable tragedy, notably the bureaucratic bungling and complacency from the top down which allowed the Japanese attack to succeed.
Throughout this well done production, the story in true chronological sequence shifts between the two opposing sides with full subtitles giving the role played by each leading actor.
The viewer is given a clear concise unfolding of events with the part of the code-breakers importantly emphasized.
The attack is quite breathtaking in parts with several scenes closely resembling or being actual footage taken.
Ironically the breaking of the Japanese naval code by U.S. Intelligence gave the Americans every opportunity to correctly contemplate the next move of their adversary, but a desire for utmost secrecy by the Roosevelt Administration and the top brass of the Navy and Army restricted the transmission of clear and proper communications necessary for the Pearl Harbor commanders, Admiral Kimmel and General Short to make sound objective judgments regarding their respective commands.
Both men were treated shabbily by their superiors in the aftermath of the attack, were relieved of their command, and for decades thereafter had to endure the shame and responsibility placed on them in allowing this occurrence to happen.
This movie does a lot to exonerate them from their part in this terrible disaster.
P.S. I had the great honor of meeting bugler Richard Fiske personally, (USS West Virginia) with a colleague of mine when we visited Pearl Harbor in March 1997, (plus autograph),and had our photo taken with him. It is one of my enduring photos of this great sailor who gave his time unselfishly as a volunteer survivor, at the base, to give two second generation Australians the respect of knowing that we met a man who belonged to a nation which contributed to the success of winning the Pacific War.