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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
"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.
Tora! Tora! Tora! has long been a favorite of this WW2 buff. Considering I have had 34 years to study and learn about the war since the film first was shown, I still maintain it is almost unbeatable in terms of realism and historical accuracy. An added attraction for me has always been it's total lack of a love interest. Unlike the recent "Pearl Harbor", T!T!T! is not complicated by any silly love stories. While by recent standards the movie may seem slow paced and plodding, the details of the events leading up to the attack is gratifying to see and actually educational. The attack action is thrilling, well paced, and in its use of models, actual planes and other equipment,is extremely realistic with few distracting anachronisms. Be aware that this is definitely not a movie to watch if you are in a hurry.
...see this film.
Whether you want to waste time seeing Brucheimer and Bay's self-indulgently long PEARL HARBOR with its totally extraneous fictional romance -- that's up to you. But whether you see it or not, the real history of the human stupidity on both sides of the Pacific that created the attack is clearly portrayed in TORA! TORA! TORA!
The new DVD edition has insightful commentary by the director plus a documentary about the attack. This film is tensely paced and displays and excellent cast. The Jerry Goldsmith score is kept to a minimum but is very effective. The special FX for the attack are all the more impressive considering they were done before the advent of computer generated FX such as those in PEARL HARBOR -- and they equal those of PEARL HARBOR.
If you want to know the real story, see this film and then also check out the companion stories in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, DESTINATION TOKYO, and THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO.
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.
I have not seen the movie _Pearl Harbor_; nor, for that matter, do I plan
to. I do not personally care for films that warp an important historical
event to suit a formulaic date-flick format (a certain travesty involving
big steamship comes immediately to mind). If I go to the movie theater to
watch a historical account, then that's what I want to see. _Tora! Tora!
Tora!_ is exactly that, and more; it very nearly puts you right in the
middle of the conflagration.
It continues to be a source of total wonder for me that _Tora! Tora! Tora!_, a movie made nearly thirty-two years ago, is so expertly presented. The reason for this is twofold: usage of lesser-known character actors to keep plot distraction to a minimum, and the usage of vintage working ships and aircraft to keep the realism to a maximum. These two elements merge together to produce what amounts to a cameraman in a time machine filming the actual events on site.
Since this was a collaborative effort between both US and Japanese film studios, the numerous switches between scenes will give you a good look at the differences between directing (and acting) styles. I am constantly amazed at the boldness of the content for a film released in the US during the Vietnam War, and only 25 years after the Pearl Harbor attack itself; compared to the rather wooden Martin Balsam and Jason Robards, Takahiro Tamura's Lt. Commander Fuchida is replete with a charisma I would never have expected from The Enemy. The Japanese side of the tale is laid before you so well that one is sent into the minds of the people involved, a rarity for American war films. (Sometimes it goes a little bit over the edge -- Admiral Yamamoto's comment "I know [the Americans] are a proud and just people" is a mistranslation -- but the general mood is accurately conveyed overall.)
And then there is the beautiful and sometimes chilling scenery. The attack scenes themselves are eye-popping and brazen enough -- an awesome effort given the technology of the period -- but my personal favorite scene is the Japanese lead strike force's departure from their aircraft carrier. Those of you who purchase the DVD version of the movie should crank up the volume at this point. This is a piece of film that most probably can never be shot again: REAL aircraft flooring their REAL engines and taking flight from a REAL ship of war, against the backdrop of the early dawn, one after another, until the sky is alive with what looks like waves and waves of warplanes. Although the aircraft and ships used were modifed American stock, the flags, uniforms, and color schemes are all authentic... resulting in a spine-tingling spectacle of Japanese pilots plunging headlong into what was ultimately a disastrous mistake. They are depicted as human beings, as they should be.
It is an astoundingly accurate presentation of a dark moment in history for both the US and Japan, free of pretense, pandering to the audience, big-bucks megastars, lovey-dovey sappiness, and computer-generated pixels. You don't *need* any of these things to create a fantastic movie; all you need is history, which we all know is stranger -- and scarier, and more engaging -- than fiction. _Tora! Tora! Tora_ should be in every movie fan's library.
I can review this from a different perspective: my father was a Coast
Artillery officer in the U. S. Army stationed at Fort Kamehameha,
abutting Hickam Field, when the attack took place. He had his family
with him, so my mother, my sister, and I also were involved. I was
pre-kindergarten at the time, but have a good memory. Naturally, I've
read extensively about the attack since.
Speaking personally, the attack in the film sounded real, though our mother kept me and my sister inside for much of the attack (we had to go outside to get evacuated from our quarters).
But that aside: the film mirrors historic events closely. However, (possibly a minor spoiler or two follow) there were some little points that had been added for the audience's sake.
The MAGIC machine, which was breaking the Japanese PURPLE cipher, did not have to be explained to either officer, but one did, so the audience would get the drift of what was happening. (The actual machine was the greatest cryptological feat of World War II, greater than Enigma, because it was developed from scratch by Frank Rowlett under the direction of William Friedmann.) The film was based in large part from the books of Professor Gordon W. Prenge, an historian who specialized in Pearl Harbor. Prenge interviewed many of the principals in the action, on both sides, and became friends with several.
This is the best film on Pearl Harbor. I got tapes for my mother and sister, both of whom shared my reaction to it.
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.
This film tells the story of the attack by the Japanese Navy on an unsuspecting Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The film is balanced insofar as it's perspective, being told from both the Japanese and American sides. The storyline begins pretty much with the decision by the Japanese government that, unless negotiations with the United States were to take a decidedly different direction, there would be no choice but to go to war. It then follows the planning of the attack by Admiral Yamamoto and his staff. Concurrently, it shows that the negotiations between the two countries was not going well at all (from the Japanese standpoint). Depicted are, sadly, the absolutely dreadful decisions made by the US Commanders at Pearl Harbor, the ignoring of evidence that an attack was imminent, the lack of coordination in communications that resulted in huge delays in receiving crucial information and, lastly, ignoring the incoming Japanese raiders after they were spotted on American radar on their way in. The actual bombing and combat footage is very well done. The acting is superb by the entire stellar cast. Overall, if you want to know how a tragic event came to be, this film will explain it. It is historically mostly correct, although some artistic license was taken, for sure. Overall, an excellent production!
This is one of my favorite war films. What makes it so great is that just like "The Longest Day" this film looks at the events that led up to and during one of the most momentous moments in the history of not only this country, but Japan as well. I also loved the acting in it. Martin Balsam and Jason Robards should have been nominated for their performances as Admiral Kimmel and General Short, respectively. Also, I wonder how much different it would have been if Akira Kurosawa had directed the Japanese scenes as he originally was supposed to. I also wonder if the fact that it dealt with one of the darker chapters in American history had something to to with its poor box office showing on this side of the Pacific (ironically, it was a box office smash in Japan). However, it is still a great film and I especially loved it at the end when Yamamoto made his famous comment "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with terrible resolve." How right he was.
The real story of Pearl Harbor may have begun in 1853 when a squadron
of U.S. frigates under Matthew C. Perry forced open the isolationist
Tokugawa shogunate that governed Japan to take a reality check and open
trade with the outside world. In less than 100 years Japan became an
industrial power, every bit as formidable as any western country and
was able to attack the country that forced it open.
Our Far eastern foreign policy from then until 1941 was simply trading concessions with both Asian powers, Japan and China. When they became rivals in Asia we and other countries had to choose up sides. Alternately we favored China and Japan, but in 1941 U.S. sympathies in Washington and in public opinion was favoring China.
The island chain of Japan is notoriously lacking in natural resources. Even the United Kingdom which it is often compared to has deposits of coal and iron and that created the British steel industry. Japan has to import and in the age of imperialism, they became every bit as imperialistic as any of our western countries, maybe more so because their need was greater.
Note during the film of Tora Tora Tora it is remarked that the U.S. Fleet in Hawaii was like a dagger pointed at Japan. When the island country of Hawaii was formally annexed to the United States and the Phillipines acquired after the Spanish American War at the end of the 19th century we became rivals in the Pacific to the Japanese. And imagine if the Japanese who were most anxious to annex Hawaii themselves had done so. The dagger would have been at our West Coast. Of course the poor Hawaiians had little to say about any of this.
All that has to be factored into what you are seeing in Tora Tora Tora. That and more is what led up to the events that are meticulously recorded in documentary style. Unlike the later film Midway which spoiled a good account of the battle with a personal story, Tora Tora Tora does not waste any of the viewers time in that regard.
The participants are there in all their flaws. Admiral Husband Kimmel who made the fortunate choice of sending out the aircraft carriers which was an act that may have eventually won the Pacific War for America is played by Martin Balsam. Nevertheless he took the fall for the attack as did Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark played by Edward Andrews.
One very luckless man was Army commander in Hawaii General Joseph Short played by Jason Robards, Jr. who was in real life in the Navy and at Pearl Harbor. Short made the fatal decision to put all the aircraft at Hickam field in the center of the field because he was afraid of saboteurs. The better to bomb them from the air.
Three members of FDR's cabinet are portrayed, George MacReady as Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Joseph Cotten as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Leon Ames as Frank Knox the Secretary of the Navy. Franklin Roosevelt being the wise leader he was and knowing that our eventual entry demanded bipartisan support chose a pair of Republicans in Stimson and Knox. Would that our current president had that kind of foresight.
George MacReady who usually portrayed polished villains is a good guy here and has one of his best screen moments as the Japanese envoys are ushered into his office AFTER the attack has begun to issue Japanese diplomatic demands.
Tora Tora Tora should be shown in schools as a great piece of well acted documentary film making if that's not a contradiction in terms. It won an Oscar for Special Effects which are out of date compared to the later Pearl Harbor movie, but still done well. Catch it if you can by all means.
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